January 2010


Companies principally used offshore subsidiaries to hire U.S. workers providing services overseas on U.S. government contracts in order to avoid Social Security, Medicare–known as Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) — and other payroll taxes.

Considering the sheer amount of money that the Pentagon spends on contractors for support, approximately $396 billion on contracts for products and services in fiscal year 2008 according to the GAO, the money not spent on payroll taxes can amount to quite a lot. *

From AllGov:

Setting up foreign subsidiaries allows American defense contractors not only to utilize cheaper labor and more favorable regulations, but also avoid paying taxes that fund key government safety net programs. This conclusion was reached by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which examined 29 defense contractors and their reliance on offshore companies for their work overseas from 2003 to 2008.

GAO investigators found that companies primarily used offshore subsidiaries to avoid contributing to Social Security and Medicare. This avoidance was perfectly legal, thanks to the way Congress crafted the Federal Insurance Contributions Act. Since then, lawmakers passed new legislation in 2008, the Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax Act, which sought to close this loophole.

From the report (PDF) released yesterday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Companies principally used offshore subsidiaries to hire U.S. workers providing services overseas on U.S. government contracts in order to avoid Social Security, Medicare–known as Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) — and other payroll taxes. This practice allowed contractors to offer lower bids when competing for certain services and thereby reduce costs for DOD. Our analysis of two contracts showed that the use of offshore subsidiaries saved DOD at least $110 million annually prior to the HEART [Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax] Act, through payroll tax avoidance. While this practice provided contract cost savings for DOD, it resulted in these companies avoiding payroll taxes that would have contributed to the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds. The 2008 HEART Act resulted in offshore subsidiaries of U.S. companies paying FICA taxes for U.S. workers performing services overseas on U.S. government contracts. As a result, in fiscal year 2009, four of the case study contractors using offshore subsidiaries to support DOD work requested reimbursement from DOD of at least $140 million for new FICA payments. Federal and state unemployment payroll taxes, however, were not covered by the HEART Act, and several contractors that used offshore subsidiaries have continued to avoid these taxes. In one state, we reviewed documentation for about 140 former employees of several contractors who were denied unemployment benefits in 2009. State workforce officials indicated these benefits were denied because the employees worked for a foreign subsidiary and not an American employer.

David Isenberg writes in: Offshore Means Never Having to Pay Payroll Taxes

It seems ironically fitting that private military contractors — which are examples of the presumed benefits of outsourcing — devote so much effort to further outsourcing their operations. According to the GAO from 2003 through 2008, defense contractors increasingly used offshore subsidiaries. Their analysis of SEC filings found that in 2008, 29 of the top defense contractors — accounting for 41 percent of DOD contracting dollars in fiscal year 2008 — had at least 1,194 offshore subsidiaries.

Of the total offshore subsidiaries, about 200 were located in tax haven financial privacy jurisdictions such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Ireland, or Luxembourg. Firms like KBR, CSA, and AECOM all have subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands, well-known for its excessive secrecy in facilitating tax evasion. …

Interestingly, as many private military and security contracting advocates claim that the private sector is inherently more cost-effective than the public sector because it can hire lower-cost foreign workers the GAO report noted that the need for security clearances for U.S. personnel working on certain DOD contracts, as well export control provisions, limit the types of defense work that can be conducted through offshore subsidiaries.

None of this is illegal and the Pentagon is aware of the practice. It does not object, as it receives cost savings as the practice allowed contractors to offer lower bids. Of course, the public ends subsiding contractors because it pays reimbursement to those offshore subsidiaries that do make FICA payments. So in the end the only people who suffer, besides taxpayers, are workers who don’t make Social Security, Medicare, and similar contributions.

This is just another example of shifting risk and burden to the lowest level of contractors, those actually working on the ground.

This may be legal, but it is certainly unpatriotic. And it does not represent a cost saving, merely a cost shifting, and very likely a cost increase over having government workers do government work.

Islamaphobes have yet again opted to resort to scare tactics imply that unless this country [South Africa] secures a military arrangement with Uncle Sam, it will be rocked by al-Qaeda laced bombs.

Mandela holding the World Cup

Back in 2007, on behalf of unnamed terrorists, J Peter Pham uttered terrorist threats against the 2010 World Cup:

Between the ideologically-motivated ignorance of the country’s rulers to the dangers posed by transnational Islamist terrorism as well as the attractiveness of South Africa’s highly-developed infrastructure to terrorist networks seeking a base for and/or a theater of operations, terrorists understandably find in South Africa an enabling environment at the very least. South Africans should not count on their leaders’ long-standing ties to terrorists groups and regimes to immunize them from the danger that confronts civilization in the twenty-first century. To cite just one example, in a little over two years, in 2010, South Africa will be the first African nation to ever play host to the World Cup Finals, the most widely-viewed sporting event in the world and a target terrorists may find too tempting to pass up. Should anything happen during the tournament, the consequent drying up of tourism and foreign investment would be devastating not just to South Africa, but to the entire African continent. While AFRICOM may not be welcome in South Africa, if the new structure is to “enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Africa and promote our common goals of development, health, education, democracy, and economic growth in Africa,” it will have to closely monitor – even if from a discreet distance – the foolish playing with fire by the political leaders of that pivotal state before the flames sweep across its entire area of responsibility.

His message is that AFRICOM, the US Africa Command, is the only safe protection. In fact the command is probably a more certain provocation than a safe protection. South Africa’s leadership has changed since 2007.  I don’t know what Pham thinks of the new leadership, but South Africa no more inclined to welcome AFRICOM than it was before.

Now we are hearing those threats continue in the present.

In 2010 FIFA World Cup faces propaganda threat from foreign hacks, Iqbal Jassat describes that more threats are being uttered by supporters of AFRICOM.

Soccer’s premier international event has ensured that South Africa is in international news media’s constant spotlight. …


this country has to-date resisted pressure to allow the establishment of a US military base within its borders. The Americans are committed to have such presence within Africa and despite cordial relations between the Obama administration and the Zuma presidency they have been frustrated by South Africa’s lack of co-operation.

Its called Africom. And notwithstanding assurances by senior Pentagon officials that its role is limited to protecting US interests that inter-alia include security in the continent, it is not all that kosher.

The current media hype sparked by alarmist reports wherein Islamaphobes have yet again opted to resort to scare tactics imply that unless this country secures a military arrangement with Uncle Sam, it will be rocked by al-Qaeda laced bombs.

Paradoxically, it ignores diametrically opposed arguments that would seek to reassure this country that because it is not in America’s military embrace there cannot be any justification for bombing the soccer festival to smithereens.

And by the way has anyone given thought to the fact that an arsenal known as “dirty-tricks” is a potent asset possessed by agencies such as the CIA, MI5 and Mossad. This allows them to manipulate public opinion through the commission of horrible acts of terror that frames individuals and groups. Ultimately the end result would be to direct policies of sovereign states to the extent that such sovereignty stinks.

And with AFRICOM we should keep in mind, as an article in HSToday reports:

one of the Command’s fundamental roles is indeed counterterror intelligence and disruption operations.

As I wrote in an earlier post, based on a GAO Report, the US Africa Command is already active in the following countries, headquartered in the US embassy in these countries:
Algeria
Botswanana
Djibouti
Ethiopia
Ghana
Kenya
Liberia
Morocco
Nigeria
Senegal
South Africa
Tunisia
and continues working to add to the list.

Disruption operations are a serious concern. They have been part of the lead up to every coup sponsored or endorsed by the US government around the world. That has been true in Africa since independence. Disruption operations preceded the coup against Nkrumah, and many more since. US Military partnerships are training future coup leaders. You can see a list of US military interventions including coups in this previous post: War Is Peace – US Military Intervention.

The threats of violence show the counterterrorists to be the same as any terrorists, using the same threats, fear, and the possibility of violence to achieve their goals. The US military has already been complicit in manufacturing terrorist incidents in the Sahara to justify AFRICOM.

These threats should not be taken lightly, but they should be viewed with great skepticism.  People should ask serious questions about their origins and motives.
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Aid flights that have been turned away from Haiti by the American military include flights from:

CARICOM, the Caribbean Community, Médecins Sans Frontieres, Brazil, France, Italy, and even the U.S. Red Cross

photo: JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images. Port-au-Prince January 19, 2010. US troops descended by helicopter to take control of Haiti's ruined presidential palace Tuesday, as the military earthquake relief operation gathered pace. As Bag News Notes says: I would love to know how the US military thought this picture would play (in Haiti -- after the first rush; domestically; abroad) in landing American troops at the Haitian Presidential Palace. Was it all gung-ho, or was there an upside/downside consideration?

The United States, having stolen so much from Haiti, now dictates what and when foreign aid will reach the Haitian people. … President Obama’s response to the tragedy in Haiti has been robust in military deployment and puny in what the Haitians need most: food; first responders and their specialized equipment; doctors and medical facilities and equipment; and engineers, heavy equipment, and heavy movers.
Cynthia McKinney

Médecins Sans Frontieres writes, with video at the link:

Six Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) cargo planes loaded with vital medical material like antibiotics have been redirected to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. This will delay MSF staff’s ability to treat patients who urgently need it.

And earlier:

Port-au-Prince, January 19, 2010A Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) cargo plane carrying 12 tons of medical equipment, including drugs, surgical supplies and two dialysis machines, was turned away three times from Port-au-Prince airport since Sunday night despite repeated assurances of its ability to land there. This 12-ton cargo was part of the contents of an earlier plane carrying a total of 40 tons of supplies that was blocked from landing on Sunday morning. Since January 14, MSF has had five planes diverted from the original destination of Port-au-Prince to the Dominican Republic. These planes carried a total of 85 tons of medical and relief supplies.

“We have had five patients in Martissant health center die for lack of the medical supplies that this plane was carrying,” said Loris de Filippi, emergency coordinator for the MSF’s Choscal Hospital in Cite Soleil. “I have never seen anything like this. Any time I leave the operating theater I see lots of people desperately asking to be taken for surgery. Today, there are 12 people who need lifesaving amputations at Choscal Hospital. We were forced to buy a saw in the market to continue amputations. We are running against time here.”

“It is like working in a war situation,” said Rosa Crestani, MSF medical coordinator for Choscal Hospital. “We don’t have any more morphine to manage pain for our patients. We cannot accept that planes carrying lifesaving medical supplies and equipment continue to be turned away while our patients die. Priority must be given to medical supplies entering the country.”

Many of the patients have been pulled from the rubble of collapsed buildings are at grave risk of death from septicemia and the consequences of “crush syndrome,” a condition where damaged muscle tissue releases toxins into the bloodstream and can lead to death from kidney failure. Dialysis machines are vital to keeping patients alive with this condition.

People who might have lived are already dead and more are in danger. Those who are lucky enough to get surgery may have no morphine to relieve their pain.

While writing this I just saw a clip on Rachel Maddow’s show of US Lt. Gen. Keane being asked about quake survivors camped within 200 yards of the airport who say they have received no aid so far. The General started talking about bringing in troops from lots of countries and ITN reporter Bill Neely had the presence to say they need aid, not troops.

With Foreign Aid Still at a Trickle, Devastated Port-au-Prince General Hospital Struggles to Meet Overwhelming Need

AMY GOODMAN: There are now, I think it was announced, 12,000 US soldiers. The Venezuelan President Chavez called it an occupation now. What would you say?

DR. EVAN LYON: I think it has real potential to be an occupation. If there are 12,000 soldiers here, it is an occupation. I’ve not known of any violence at the hands of the American military. We’ve also just barely had the beginning of collaboration with them, literally within the last thirty minutes. General Keane, their operations person, finally showed up here after some time. And the military is helping us secure the grounds. But of course this is an occupation. It’s not a—this is a disaster area. Warm bodies help, but military is potentially very destructive in this environment.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you need? What would be constructive?

DR. EVAN LYON: What we need right now is electricity, water, nurses, surgeons and materials. We have on site right now—we have seven operating rooms up and running. We need about fifteen or twenty within the next twenty-four hours. We have materials to keep the operating rooms going for maybe another twelve hours. Once that runs out, then we’re stuck.

AMY GOODMAN: Soldiers haven’t brought you supplies?

DR. EVAN LYON: Not yet.

DR. EVAN LYON: This question of security and the rumors of security and the racism behind the idea of security has been our major block to getting aid in. The US military has promised us for several days to bring in—to bring in machinery, but they’ve been listening to this idea that things are insecure, and so we don’t have supplies.

I’m living here in the neighborhood with a friend. I’m staying with some of my Haitian doctor colleagues. We’ve been circulating on the roads to 1:00 and 2:00 in the morning, moving patients, moving supplies, trying to get our work done. There is no security. The UN is not out. The US is not out. The Haitian police are not able to be out. But there’s also no insecurity. I don’t know if you guys were out late last night, but you can hear a pin drop in this city. It’s a peaceful place. There is no war. There is no crisis except the suffering that’s ongoing.

The concern for militarization, the concern for occupation is very real. There is capacity that we don’t have that the military will help us with, and that is urgently needed, because we’re losing patients minute to minute. But the first that listeners need to understand is that there is no insecurity here. There has not been, and I expect there will not be. [h/t b real]

The obvious question is why the US might be interested in occupying Haiti. Cynthia McKinney fills us in on that as well:

Ms. Laurent reminds us of Haiti’s offshore oil and other mineral riches and recent revival of an old idea to use Haiti and an oil refinery to be built there as a transshipment terminal for U.S. supertankers. Ms. Laurent, also known as Ezili Danto of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network (HLLN), writes:

“There is evidence that the United States found oil in Haiti decades ago and due to the geopolitical circumstances and big business interests of that era made the decision to keep Haitian oil in reserve for when Middle Eastern oil had dried up. This is detailed by Dr. Georges Michel in an article dated March 27, 2004 outlining the history of oil explorations and oil reserves in Haiti and in the research of Dr. Ginette and Daniel Mathurin.

“The U.S. plans to use Haiti’s deep water ports either for oil refineries or to develop oil tank farm sites.”

“There is also good evidence that these very same big US oil companies and their inter-related monopolies of engineering and defense contractors made plans, decades ago, to use Haiti’s deep water ports either for oil refineries or to develop oil tank farm sites or depots where crude oil could be stored and later transferred to small tankers to serve U.S. and Caribbean ports. This is detailed in a paperabout the Dunn Plantation at Fort Liberte in Haiti.

“Ezili’s HLLN underlines these two papers on Haiti’s oil resources and the works of Dr. Ginette and Daniel Mathurin in order to provide a view one will not find in the mainstream media nor anywhere else as to the economic and strategic reasons the US has constructed its fifth largest embassy in the world – fifth only besides the US embassy in China, Iraq, Iran and Germany – in tiny Haiti, post the 2004 Haiti Bush regime change.”

McKinney also writes:

For those of us who have been following events in Haiti before the tragic earthquake, it is worth noting that several items have caused deep concern:

1. the continued exile of Haiti’s democratically-elected and well-loved, yet twice-removed former priest, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide;

2. the unexplained continued occupation of the country by United Nations troops who have killed innocent Haitians and are hardly there for “security” (I’ve personally seen them on the roads that only lead to Haiti’s sparsely-populated areas teeming with beautiful beaches);

3. U.S. construction of its fifth-largest embassy in the world in Port-au-Prince, Haiti;

4. mining and port licenses and contracts, including the privatization of Haiti’s deep water ports, because certain off-shore oil and transshipment arrangements would not be possible inside the U.S. for environmental and other considerations; and

5. extensive foreign NGO presence in Haiti that could be rendered unnecessary if, instead, appropriate U.S. and other government policy allowed the Haitian people some modicum of political and economic self-determination.

And from a Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

It is understandable that many African Americans are making comparisons between the militarized character of the U.S. intervention in Haiti’s earthquake disaster and the federal government’s largely military response to the Katrina catastrophe in New Orleans, four and a half years ago. It is quite reasonable to conclude that the U.S. government is more concerned about law and order issues than in attending to the immediate needs of desperate disaster victims – especially when the victims are Black. History tells us that U.S. governments regard masses of Black people, first, as potential threats to security, and only second as fellow human beings deserving of assistance. Nevertheless, the heavy-handed militarization of U.S. disaster aid to Haiti should be seen in a larger context. As a matter of established American policy, the military has been assigned prime responsibility for U.S. foreign disaster relief, worldwide.

It’s not just disaster relief that has been militarized. The U.S. military command in Africa, AFRICOM, has assumed responsibility for much of the day-to-day duties once performed by the State Department and other civilian agencies. More often than not, the uniformed military is the dispenser of a wide range of U.S. foreign aid in Africa, as part of a general militarization of U.S. relations with the rest of the planet.

And Ford offers another reason why the US has built:

… the fifth largest U.S. embassy in the world sits in Haiti, one of the planet’s most economically unimportant nations. What purpose could it possibly serve, other than as a U.S. military and and dirty tricks base for the U.S. Southern Command – which now decides what gets in and out of Haiti. For all practical purposes, the U.S. Southern Command is the occupying power in Haiti. What we are observing is imperialism in action, under cover of disaster.

I would like to add this picture, both as a tribute to the human spirit, and as a rebuke to CNN in particular, and the media coverage in general.

Youths play with empty boxes as they collect them after food was distributed by the World Food Program in Port-au-Prince, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010. Relief groups and officials are focused on moving the aid flowing into Haiti to the survivors of the powerful earthquake that hit the country on Tuesday. (photo: Ariana Cubillos/AP)

From Bag News Notes:

We’ve been closely observing the schizophrenia in the Haiti media coverage over the past twelve hours, with some outlets describing a situation of widespread violence and looting … with others showing scenes of grateful Haitian citizens receiving their first food and water in days.

More background:

As one commenter wrote over at dKos about how this scene played out Saturday on CNN:

It was interesting – though unwelcome – to watch the narrative in the making. The anchor (somebody Lemon) broke away from another story to go to the reporter at a food distribution center, who was reporting unrest. By the time they got to the reporter he had determined that what he thought might be violence breaking out because all the food was gone – was in reality children who had discovered a field full of empty boxes and had started an impromptu game of throwing them up in the air and kicking them and doing whatever it is they do that has kids everywhere so fascinated with empty boxes.

The adults were standing around, calm as could be and the reporter was smiling a bit at these children who had been through so much, lost so much finding a bit of lightness and fun in a field full of boxes. The newsreader, however, might as well have not heard a word of this explanation, as he went on being so understanding of desperate people doing desperate things – while a loop of the children throwing boxes went on in the background. He went back to this narrative and loop a couple more times during the show. Then Wolf Blitzer starts his show and continues to promote the same narrative using the same footage of the same children who CNN are trying to make the face of desperate riot and mayhem in Haiti… all because they found some boxes in a field and decided to play.

Finally, something you don’t often see: here’s a clip of a CNN reporter on the scene actually correcting the impression.

Raj Patel posts how lethal are requests that infant formula be sent to Haiti. Where there is no reliable clean water, infant formula is a death sentence, and another predation of disaster capitalists. He points out:

It’s already bitterly ironic that Bill Clinton is the United Nation’s special envoy to Haiti, after the economic policy he imposed there to transform it into the Caribbean’s sweatshop. Now, President Obama has asked George Bush to lead fundraising efforts for relief in Haiti. After Bush took part in an international coup to overthrow Aristide. It’s like sending in the horsemen of the apocalypse to negotiate peace.

First, as poet activist Shailja Patel has posted, there’s a progressive action plan for Haiti:

Haiti: 10-point action plan
1) Grants, not loans.
2) Keep corporations and corporatist policies OUT. Stop disaster capitalism in its tracks.
3) Cancel ALL Haiti’s debt to the Inter-American Development Bank.
4) Let Aristide return to Haiti.
5) Lift the ban on Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas political party.
6) Rip up the neoliberal pre-earthquake Clinton-Obama program for Haiti: tourism, sweatshops, privatization, deregulation.
7) Do not allow US military or UN “peacekeepers” to point guns at desperate Haitians.
8 ) Allow all Haitians in the US to work, and remit money home.
9) Release all 30,000 Haitians held in US jails for deportation, and grant them Temporary Protected Status.
10) Demand that France start repaying the $21 billion it extorted from Haiti in 1825, to “compensate” France for loss of Haiti as a slave colony.”

________

h/t Bag News Notes for the photo at the top

For background on the Haitian economy, see:
An open letter to Ban Ki-Moon: Why Haiti can’t forget its past
Haiti – the first free Black republic in the Caribbean
Haiti’s Creole Pig and the Other Swine Flu Epidemic

no country has been developed by outsiders. International relationships are simply not defined by sentimentalities but by cold, calculated self-interest. This is a lesson that African leaders refuse to learn. Outsiders might help, but it is the citizens of a country led by an intelligent leader with vision that develop nations.
Femi Akomolafe

Map of Ghana's Jubilee Field

Back in December the Vanguard published an editorial recording a conversation between Professor Dora Akunyili, Minister of Information for Nigeria, and Venezuela’s Ambassador to Nigeria, Enerique Fernando Arrundell. There is much in Mr. Arrundell’s words that Ghanaians should take to heart.

Lessons from Venezuela
Dec. 4, 2009

VENEZUELAN Ambassador to Nigeria, Enerique Fernando Arrundell, could not have offered his advice on Nigeria’s management of its petroleum resources at a better time. The anchor of government’s argument is that higher prices would draw foreign investors to the down stream sector of the industry.

Professor Dora Akunyili, Minister of Information had solicited Venezuelan investments for our refineries.
Mr. Arrundell’s response was without diplomatese. He launched a profound lecture on Nigeria’s oil and gas.

“In Venezuela, since 1999, we’ve never had a raise in fuel price. We only pay $1.02 to fill the tank. What I pay for with N12, 000 here (Nigeria), in Venezuela I’ll pay N400. What is happening is simple. Our President (Hugo Chavez) decided one day to control the industry, because it belongs to Venezuelans. If you don’t control the industry, your development will be in the hands of foreigners.

“You have to have your own country. The oil is your country’s. Sorry I am telling you this. I am giving you the experience of Venezuela. We have 12 refineries in the United States, 18,000 gas stations in the West Coast. All we are doing is in the hands of Venezuelans.

“Before 1999, we had three or four foreign companies working with us. That time they were taking 80 per cent, and giving us 20. Now, we have 90 per cent, and giving them 10. But now, we have 22 countries working with us in that condition.

It is the Venezuelan condition. You know why? It is because 60 per cent of the income goes to social programmes. That’s why we have 22,000 medical doctors assisting the people in the community. The people don’t go to the hospital; doctors go to their houses. This is because the money is handled by Venezuelans. How come

Nigeria that has more technical manpower than Venezuela, with 150 million people, and very intellectual people all around, not been able to get it right? The question is: If you are not handling your resources, how are you going to handle the country?

“So, it is important that Nigeria takes control of her resources. We have no illiterate people. We have over 17 new universities totally free. I graduated from the university without paying one cent, and take three meals every day, because we have the resources. We want the resources of the Nigerian people for the
Nigerians. It is enough! It is enough, Minister!

Femi Akomolafe (his blog) adds some words of advice:

There are, however, some fundamental truths that we must begin to tell ourselves. First and foremost is the belief that we can continue to depend on other people’s (especially Western) charities for our development. I have said several times that no country has been developed by outsiders. International relationships are simply not defined by sentimentalities but by cold, calculated self-interest. This is a lesson that African leaders refuse to learn. Outsiders might help, but it is the citizens of a country led by an intelligent leader with vision that develop nations.

And as I have recounted several times in this very column, our five hundred or so years of “relationship” with the West has been to our utter detriment. We have nothing but slavery, colonialism, and the more pernicious neo-colonialism (aka imperialism) to show for it. We can also throw in the disease of rabid racism that still pervades the Western world.

And yet African leaders continue to parrot the same inanities about partnering with “developmental partners!”

In Ghana:

In the name of “investment,” the Western multinationals will bring in ancient equipment (tax free) to come and set up shop to extract our resources. To attract their “investments,” they are given tax breaks and other packages that made them pay their expatriate staff out-of-this-world salaries and emoluments. They will employ the brute force of our compatriots whilst their planes and helicopters are waiting to ship out our gold and diamonds in their raw state. For this they pay us a pittance in royalty and employ the best PR outfits who will dazzle us with enough razzmatazz to make us dizzy. A few years down the road, the mines are depleted, our land and environment polluted, and our people’s lives wretched. The wily Westerner is already outta the country.

This is the very sad story that keeps repeating itself year in year out and like mindless children, we seem not to learn any lesson. Since the overthrow of President Kwame Nkrumah’s government in 1966, no government in Ghana has deemed it fit and proper to build a gold or diamond factory in order to add some value to them.

This has been our sad story and yet our leaders have stubbornly refused to learn a thing.

There is a law in this country against causing financial loss to the state and it is high time we start to use it seriously and effectively. How on earth can officials of our country, paid from the treasury of mother Ghana, and in this age and time, sign agreements with foreigners to cart away our crude oil unrefined for twenty years! What on earth informed that reckless decision? Who said that slavery is over? And please, what crime is that if not the criminal cause of financial loss to the state of Ghana?

There is a state-owned oil refinery at Tema that is in perennial struggle to get crude oil from Nigeria, and yet some unconscionable Ghanaians appended their signature to ship our oil to foreign refineries unrefined!

Historian Laurent Dubois … “Anyone who lives in a democratic society in which race doesn’t equal a denial of rights has some debt to the Haitian revolution,” he reflected in an interview. “The very notion of democracy that we consider commonsense emerged because of that revolution. If that’s something we cherish then we owe that to Haiti, which has suffered more for its victory rather than been rewarded for it.” 
from the Boston Globe in 2004

People gather outside a damaged MSF office in Port-au-Prince to receive help after a 7-magnitude earthquake hit the capital city on January 12.

It would be nice to give something back to Haiti, especially when help is so urgently needed.  A friend in the medical profession sent me this appeal. I made a contribution and I recommend the opportunity to your attention. As my friend said:  This is a great organization, please consider it if you are planning to donate to help.   

Haiti: MSF Teams Set up Clinics to Treat Injured After Facilities Are Damaged

Donate here to support MSF’s work in Haiti.

The first reports are now emerging from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams who were already working on medical projects Haiti. They are treating hundreds of people injured in the quake and have been setting up clinics in tents to replace their own damaged medical facilities.

The Martissant health center in a poor area of Port-au-Prince had to be evacuated after the earthquake because it was damaged and unstable. The patients are now in tents in the grounds and the medical staff have been dealing with a flow of casualties from the town. They have already treated between 300 and 350 people, mainly for trauma injuries and fractures. Among them are 50 people suffering from burns—some of them severe—many of them caused by domestic gas containers exploding in collapsing buidings. At the Pacot rehabilitation center another 300 to 400 people have been treated. In one of MSF’s adminstrative offices in Petionville, another part of Port-au-Prince, a tent clinic there has seen at least 200 injured people. More are getting assistance at what was the Solidarite maternity hospital, which was seriously damaged.

One of MSF’s senior staff, Stefano Zannini, was out for most of the night, trying to assess the needs in the city and looking at the state of the medical facilities. “The situation is chaotic,” he said. “I visited five medical centers, including a major hospital, and most of them were not functioning. Many are damaged and I saw a distressing number of dead bodies. Some parts of the city are without electricity and people have gathered outside, lighting fires in the street and trying to help and comfort each other. When they saw that I was from MSF they were asking for help, particularly to treat their wounded. There was strong solidarity among people in the streets.”

Another MSF coordinator there, Hans van Dillen, confirmed that Port-au-Prince was quite unable to cope with the scale of the disaster. “There are hunderds of thousands of people who are sleeping in the streets because they are homeless,” said van Dillen. “We see open fractures, head injuries. The problem is that we can not forward people to proper surgery at this stage.”

So many of the city’s medical facilities have been damaged, healthcare is severely disrupted at precisely the moment when medical needs are high.

MSF is also working to get more staff into the country. Around 70 more staff are expected to arrive in the coming days. MSF is sending out a 100-bed hospital with an inflatable surgical unit, consisting of two operating theaters and seven hospitalization tents. Nephrologists will be sent as part of the team in order to deal with the affects of crush injuries. However, transport links are difficult and it is not yet clear whether supplies and medical staff will have to go in through neighboring Dominican Republic.

MSF is also concerned about the safety of some of its own staff. There are 800 of them and not all have yet been accounted for because of the poor communications and general disruption.

Donate here to support MSF’s work in Haiti.

____________________

Added January 14

Oxfam International has an ongoing presence in Haiti, and are working with the critical issues of water and shelter.

Donate here to support Oxfam

Our immediate priorities will be providing safe water and shelter material for the people who have lost their homes.”
Cedric Perus
Oxfam’s humanitarian coordinator in Port au Prince
January 14, 2010

A six-strong team of Oxfam emergency specialists has been dispatched to Haiti from the UK today to bolster the charity’s response to the devastation wrought by the earthquake that struck the country on Tuesday.

Cedric Perus, Oxfam’s humanitarian coordinator in Port au Prince said:

“I have seen wounded people flooding into the hospitals and buildings of several stories high that are now totally flat. Several thousands have probably died in the quake, but it will it will take time to get a full picture. Bodies may stay under the rubble for a long time because it is difficult to access some sites and heavy lifting equipment is in limited supply.

“There are bodies all over the city. People have nowhere to put them so they wrap them in sheets and cardboards in the hope that the authorities will pick them. People have also piled bodies in front of the city’s main hospitals.

“Oxfam’s teams have now started to assess the scale of the disaster across the different parts of Port au Prince as some have been more severely affected than others. The epicenter was near the slum of Carrefour, where people were living in flimsy shacks. There are reports that over 90% of its buildings are in ruins.

Our immediate priorities will be providing safe water and shelter material for the people who have lost their homes. Many people have lost their homes and were sleeping out in the open last night. There has been no rain yet, but there was rain earlier in the week and if it comes again it will make the situation much worse for all those made homeless by this quake. It is dangerous at night. Lootings were widespread and some markets were ransacked.”

Oxfam is preparing to send stocks from its Bicester Warehouse in Oxfordshire, UK. Materials that will be sent include plastic sheeting and equipment for water distribution, purification and storage.

Communication has been difficult since the 7.0 on the Richter scale quake struck 10 miles southwest of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, but the situation is undoubtedly grave. Homes, office buildings, roads, schools, hospitals and hotels have collapsed. Millions of people are affected and the aid agencies need millions of dollars to get aid to all the people that need it.

Donate to the Haiti Earthquake Response Fund

Please consider helping fund our Haiti Earthquake Response Fund. These Oxfam affiliates are running direct appeals:

Talks are underway to add a special-purpose Marine air-ground task force to U.S. Africa Command, a move that would center on expanding efforts to train African militaries, officials say.

Seabasing exercises have been ongoing for some time with the African Partnership Station, and other Naval exercises around the coasts of Africa.

Marine air ground task force, MAGTF, and seabasing (click to enlarge enough to read text)

The graphic above is from a Marine Corps information page on Seabasing. It offers more information, text, graphics, and videos. As the title states, the reason for seabasing is to overcome access challenges, such as not being welcome in the countries the MAGTF wishes to access. You will not find much about training partners in these documents.
Seabasing
– Enabling Joint Operations & Overcoming Access Challenges

From the Marine Corps Times Corps weighs merits of Africa task force

MAGTFs are quick-reaction units that range in size. The smallest comprise only a handful of troops, while the largest include thousands. Media reports published in December suggest as many as 1,000 Marines could be stationed in Europe as part of an AfriCom MAGTF, though neither the Marine Corps nor AfriCom would confirm how large this task force could be.

And both entities were careful when speculating about future basing options, saying only that prospective locations are being studied and that Europe, with its established infrastructure and proximity to Africa, is a logical contender. Locating a MAGTF on the African continent is not an option, officials said, even though Marines already deploy to Camp Lemonier, a joint expeditionary base in Djibouti, just north of Somalia.

It’s phenomenally diplomatically sensitive when you start talking about stationing troops in Africa,” said Vince Crawley, a spokesman for AfriCom.

Marines already conduct regular bi-national training with a number of African nations, including Egypt, Kenya, Benin and Senegal. The size and makeup of these training teams varies from mission to mission. Marines are requested based on the skills needed to complete the task at hand, be it air-support training or instruction on urban combat tactics.

Having Marines assigned to Africa for longer periods of time could give them more time to conduct Africa-specific cultural training, making those exercises more effective and resulting in stronger ties with partner nations, Fontana said.

AfriCom was created when the Horn of Africa gained greater focus as the U.S. increased efforts to disrupt suspected terrorist activities in countries with unstable governments. A permanent Marine task force also could prove valuable to counter-terrorism efforts throughout the region.

Keep in mind that counter terrorism is just another expression of terrorism.

Although the article above keeps mentioning military training, as if that is a benign activity in the circumstances, MAGTFs do not usually emphasize training. From an earlier article:

AFRICOM could add Marine Air Ground Task Force
Analysts say such a force could worry African leaders

It certainly should worry African leaders. And it should most certainly be diplomatically sensitive. It should set off alarms all over the continent.

A 1,000-strong Marine combat task force capable of rapidly deploying to hot spots could soon be at the disposal of the new U.S. Africa Command, which up to now has stressed training partnerships and security cooperation to wary African governments suspicious of U.S. military intentions on the continent.

But the Marine Corps Web site mentions very little about training when talking about the capabilities of a Marine Air Ground Task Force, or MAGTF.

MAGTF’s are readily available, self-sustaining, combined arms warfighting organizations,” the Marines’ Web site explains, noting among other things that such task forces are equipped to move forces into crisis areas without revealing their exact destination or intentions and project combat power at night and under adverse weather.

These are warfighting units designed to project US power and defend US interests.

Who would need to give permission for these strike forces to strike? What would constitute a legal and appropriate use of these forces? Suppose the US government, or US based corporations do not like the policies of a certain African government? Would that government be subject to attack? Or suppose the US government or US based corporations are very happy with a particular government but that government is highly unpopular with its own people. Will the US strike against the opposition? Would it strike against political demonstrations? What would make such a strike legitimate? I can’t think of any good answers to these questions, but they must be answered, and in fact will be answered, in deed and by default, if not in diplomacy. The message the US is sending is that it is entitled to take what it wants, wherever it wants, by force. This is the basic message of colonialism.

________

h/t africa comments

An international discourse of China-in-Africa has emerged … China in Africa has more in common with the West than is usually acknowledged; … there are nevertheless notable differences between Western and Chinese presences in Africa

Map of Chinese investment in Africa 2005 (click to enlarge)

African exports to China (click to enlarge)

In December Asia Pacific Journal published:

Trade, Investment, Power and the China-in-Africa Discourse by Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong

They make a number of interesting points about the nature of China’s involvement in Africa.

An international discourse of China-in-Africa has emerged, particularly in Western countries with dense links to Africa: the US, UK and France.

The essence of the discourse then is to cast PRC policies in Africa as promoting human rights violations or “colonialism,” while implicitly comparing them invidiously with high minded US and Western practices. Some PRC activities in Africa do violate the human rights of Africans — not in ways that Western elites claim, but in much the same manner that Western policies do, through disadvantageous terms of trade, the extraction of natural resources, oppressive labor regimes, and support for authoritarian rulers, all common features of the modern world system. These are practices that China’s elites used to denounce, but now come close to extolling as dynamic capitalism. … the path taken by China is “consistent with the logic of market capitalism-liberal trade” and makes China not a colonialist, but “a successful capitalist in Africa.”

The discourse should not be inverted by arguing that China’s presence in Africa is positive and the West’s negative or that problematic Chinese activities in Africa are justified because abuses are shared with the West. The analysis of China-Africa should invoke neither a “win-win” nor dystopic representations; rather, the trees of China’s behavior should be seen as part of a world system forest and the discourse examined using comparative analysis. Our arguments are threefold: 1) given the world system, it is difficult to assess the pluses and minuses of China-in-Africa as a single phenomenon; 2) as a player in the world system, China in Africa has more in common with the West than is usually acknowledged; 3) there are nevertheless notable differences between Western and Chinese presences in Africa; many derive from China’s experience as a semi-colony, its socialist legacy, and its developing country status, features which together make PRC policies presumptively less injurious to African sensibilities about rights than those of Western states.

The US Treasury termed China a “rogue creditor.” Africa remains, however, in a Western-created “debt trap,” owing more than $300b and paying significant interest. Yet, as US Africanist Deborah Brautigam has noted, China “regularly cancel[s] the loans of African countries, loans that were usually granted at zero interest [and] without the long dance of negotiations and questionable conditions required by the World Bank and IMF.” …

OECD researchers have concluded moreover that increased PRC activities in Africa have not deepened corruption among African governments. China’s leaders know corrupt officials will siphon off part of their infrastructure loans, but its packaged loans are less likely than Western aid to being drained by corruption. As a Hong Kong journalist has noted, because China’s loans and aid are tied to infrastructure projects, that is, a large portion of the funds are allocated directly to contractors, “corrupt rulers cannot somehow use it to buy Mercedes Benzes.” A close US observer of PRC activities in Africa has argued that China’s aid is more effective than Western aid because much is used for “hydroelectric power dams, railroads, roads and fiber-optic cables, which have the potential to benefit ordinary people, no matter how corrupt the regime under which they live.”

Despite promoting a rhetoric of transparency regarding African oil-producers, Western states have not bound their citizens and corporations. Bids for oil blocks in Africa typically feature “signature bonuses,” paid to governments, which often run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Foreign oil firms know host governments skim off large shares of what the companies pay. In a rare instance of disclosure, Western oil firms told the IMF that they paid $400m in 2001 for an Angolan oil tract, but the Angolan government claimed it received only $285m. Presumably the difference went into the pockets of government officials.

Most multinationals refuse to publish what they pay to secure oil rights. Western governments do not compel oil firms that are their own citizens to make disclosures, but “ask the tiger for its skin” (yu hou mo pi), as the Chinese say, by demanding corrupt governments publicize their own corruption.

Western policy interventions have not actually diminished the resource curse.

… oil is capital intensive, creates few jobs, is environmentally damaging and corrupts producing states. People in oil-rich regions, such as southern Sudan and Nigeria’s Niger Delta, receive so few benefits from their patrimony that violent conflict has ensued.

The China-in-Africa discourse will likely continue to focus overwhelmingly on oil in discussing PRC imports from the continent. American analysts particularly see the US as strategically competing with China for African oil. … The US government estimates African oil production will grow 91% in 2002-2025, while global production will grow 53%. Armed forces in a newly established US Africa Command will have as a main task protecting US access to oil.

US prominence in taking African oil is accompanied by its backing authoritarian rulers in almost all oil producing states.

Sautman and Hairong’s article discusses Chinese activities in Africa regarding the textiles and clothing (T&C) industries and also mining, particularly in Zambia. They provide detailed information of T&C in Africa and how it works in different countries.

If the affordability of PRC imports benefits grassroots African consumers, there are in any case only seven countries that receive a significant share (5-14%) of their imports from China. Basic consumer goods do not predominate among PRC exports, but rather “machinery, electronic equipment and high- and new-tech products.” A UK government study found that in only one African country, Uganda, are basic consumer goods more than a fifth of the value of all goods imported from China and that PRC imports into Africa mainly displace imports from elsewhere and have little effect on local production. The PRC government recognizes that some exports are of poor quality. Many Chinese goods are brought to Africa by private Chinese or African entrepreneurs whom the PRC government does not control. It nevertheless has “in place stringent measures to ensure that its goods meet all the minimum quality standards for exports [and] a ministry to ensure low quality goods are not exported.”

WB/IMF-mandated structural adjustment programs (SAPs) were the actual gravediggers of African T&C production. The influx of second-hand clothing from developed countries particularly reduced domestic markets for African T&C producers.

A balance of positive and negative impacts for China’s exports to Africa is not easily drawn. Yet, as to the T&C industry, the balance is less negative than the discourse makes out. Its fixation on Africa’s T&C industry is non-comparative and lacks historical context, as China did not contribute to the steep decline in African T&C through SAPs [structural adjustment programs], while Western states have yet to restrict their used and new clothing exports to Africa.

Most foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows to Africa come from Europe, along with South Africa and the US. These countries together account for more than half of Africa’s FDI inflows. China had only $49 million in FDI in Africa in 1990 and $600m in 2003. Its FDI stock in 2005 was $1.6b, of $57b in global PRC FDI. In 1979-2000, the most recent years for which figures are available, 46% of PRC FDI in Africa went to manufacturing (15% to textiles alone), 28% to resource extraction, 18% to services (mostly construction) and 7% to agriculture. The PRC has said it will encourage investment in Africa’s industrial processing, infrastructure, agriculture, and natural resources.

Investments thus also figure in the China-in-Africa discourse.84 Even more than with trade, the discourse is narrowly focused; its primary focus has been on only one investment by one Chinese SOE, among the more than 800 major PRC enterprises in Africa, 100 of them large SOEs. Western media have devoted hugely disproportionate attention to the Non-Ferrous Company-Africa (NFCA) Chambishi copper mine. The upshot of these reports is that “the Chinese” are Africa’s super-exploiters.

Sautman and Hairong discuss the low wages, no job security, lack of health care and unsafe working conditions for miners in Zambia. Zambian miners had previously enjoyed some health benefits and better wages. The authors point out that the lowered wages, reduced safety, and lack of health care date to the privatization of the mining sector mandated by the World Bank.

In drawing their conclusions they write:

The China-in-Africa discourse in the West for the most part insists that Chinese have particularly positioned themselves to exploit Africa and Africans; for example, by supporting authoritarian rulers in countries like Sudan and Zimbabwe. Several Western states, however, directly support despots by providing military assistance and legitimacy. In fact, US assistance to African rulers for purchases of US arms and the training of African states’ military forces has increased significantly under the Obama Administration. China is thus not likely to fare worse than the West in an evaluation of how foreign investments impinge on development and human rights in Africa.

The modalities of trade examined for development implications commonly involve the import and export of goods. There is also trade in money and people however. Western, but not PRC, banks have traded secrecy and interest to the exporters of 40% of Africa’s private wealth. Western states trade citizenship for the skills of professionals, especially doctors and nurses, trained in, but now largely lost to Africa. These forms of trade likely impinge as much as commodity exchange on Africans’ right to development.

The main problem with the China-in-Africa discourse is not empirical inaccuracies about Chinese activities in Africa, but the de-contextualization of criticisms for ideological reasons. Some analyses positively cast Western actions in Africa compared to China’s activities; others lack comparative perspective in discussing negative aspects of China’s presence, so that discourse consumers see a few trees, but not the forest. Such analysis reflects Western elite perception of national interests or moral superiority as these impinge on “strategic competition” with China. Many analysts scarcely question Western rhetoric of “aiding African development” and “promoting African democracy,” yet are quick to seize on examples of exploitation or oppression by Chinese interests.

To comprehensively interrogate Chinese and Western activities in Africa is to question a global system that has in many respects de-developed Africa and into which China is increasingly integrated. Failing that, one is left with little more than a binary between a Western-promoted new “civilizing mission” on behalf of Africans and activities of the “amoral” Chinese, who refuse to fully endorse that mission by not adopting trade and investment practices wholly compliant with neo-liberalism. China, after all, can and does throw this binary back in the face of its proponents by portraying the West as seeking a new tutelage for Africans and China as eschewing the role of intermeddler, while promoting “win-win” trade and investment. So too do many Africans. The popularity of features of China’s presence in Africa, compared with that of the main Western states, goes well beyond elites. The 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Survey asked Africans in ten countries to compare the influences of China and the US in their own countries. In nine of the ten countries, by margins of 61-91%, African respondents said Chinese influence was good. These percentages substantially exceeded those for the US. One important implication of the Chinese presence in Africa then is that Western states and firms may need to engage in greater self-reflection about their own presence in the continent.

There is much more, I can hardly do justice to this meticulously well sourced article and recommend you read it for yourself: Trade, Investment, Power and the China-in-Africa Discourse.

Africa’s economic growth is steady despite the global financial crisis. The World Bank confirmed that growth in gross domestic product has been higher than the world average for five years and is predicted to grow in 2009 and beyond.

The size of Africa (click to enlarge)

An article by Frank Aneke from October 2009 provides some positive perspective for the new year:

One-third of Africa’s total trade is now with markets in emerging economies, namely China, India, Brazil and Malaysia among others. Africa is marking a shift away from previous reliance on traditional trading partners in Europe and North America.

While many of Africa’s traditional trading partners are in a recession, many of its new markets, particularly China and India, show relatively healthy growth prospects.

The image of Africa as a continent bedevilled with sufferings and wars still exists in minds of millions through television images and news reports. Most media outfits in developed nations continuously mirror the worst pictures out of Africa to maintain the stereotype. There may be drought, disease and corruption. Still, there are new generations of young, educated, savvy entrepreneurs running businesses in Africa. A great number of professionals and business managers in Africa are educated in the world’s best universities, and have worked in high profile organisations in developed economies across the globe before returning home.

As more emerging economies defy the media blitz on Africa and invest in key sectors that are generating jobs and return on investment, Africa is slowly but surely heading towards economic transformation

The map above comes from Strange Maps, where you may find quite a few interesting maps.  As the map above shows, Africa is far to big to think of it as one place or one group of people.

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