I noted these selected paragraphs from articles I read today. The topics are most certainly related.

From an article in Nigeria’s Daily Independent:

On Sudan, my country Nigeria was made to ratify the break-up of that country into North and South so that the powerful nations can have access to the oil fields in the South which they currently cannot control under the incumbent regime. Will Nigeria allow UN to split it into North and South? Never! …

Gradually, White House is bringing Al Qaeda to Nigeria even when Nigeria has no issue with Al Qaeda. The US attempt to force its Africa Command (AFRICOM) base on Nigeria is responsible for the current bombings being tagged ‘Al Qaeda bombs’, so that Nigeria can accept the inevitability of US forces in Nigeria. What’s more, with CIA agents now prowling Nigeria, more bombings should be expected, as the US is determined to pursue its 2015 prediction that Nigeria will break-up. (Cornelius Segun Ojo)


Which country has the biggest military budget per year?


The US military budget in context

From the Narco News Bulletin:

State Department cables recently made public by WikiLeaks do seem to confirm that the U.S. government is very aware that much of the heavy firepower now in the hands of Mexican criminal organizations isn’t linked to mom-and-pop gun stores, but rather the result of blowback from U.S. arms-trading policies (both current and dating back to the Iran/Contra era) that put billions of dollars of deadly munitions into global trade stream annually.

As the death toll mounts in the drug war now raging in Mexico, it pays to remember that weapons trafficking, both government-sponsored and illegal, is a big business that feeds and profits off that carnage. Bellicose government policies, such as the U.S.-sponsored Merida Initiative, that are premised on further militarizing the effort to impose prohibition on civil society only serve to expand the profit margin on the bloodshed. (Pentagon Fingered as a Source of Narco-Firepower in Mexico)

There is an election this week in Uganda. Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire records some of her observations:

We have also seen Museveni try to tell the youth in the last few days, through the New Vision newspaper, which largely leads with his stories that they shouldn’t vote the opposition for it will sabotage a government plan to give them jobs. I don’t think Ugandan youth are fools to think that what a man has not done in 25 years can achieve in 5 years. Uganda produces about 400,000 graduates from higher institutions of learning every year but less than 50,000 jobs are created annually. President Museveni and his brother Salim Saleh have even gone into security business sending hundreds of Ugandan youth to Iraq and Afghanistan to reduce the numbers of idle youth. The truth is there’s no real plan for the youth and many will not be voting for the ruling party.

… But because many have for long trusted Museveni on security, few Ugandans bother to know or even ask why their sons are fighting in Somalia.

For a regime that has enjoyed such trust on security matters, there shouldn’t be thousands of police officers at every corner in Kampala right now. … no wonder people are now anxious …

We wait for the next three days and see if every home will have a policeman attached to it in the name of security.

Museveni is one of the US’s prized client dictators, sending proxy armies to Somalia and around the world, and also, a favorite of the US Africa Command.

Meanwhile, back at home in the US, the US government fails its own people and fails to do the job of governing:

Dear Poor People, Thank You for Going Without Heat So We Can Buy Another Week of War

As a result of your going without heat next winter, we will be able to afford almost one whole week of fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which cost about $468 million a day. Although when you add in the many hidden costs like increased long-term veteran’s health care due to the conflicts, your sacrifice is probably only really going to cover maybe half a week.

I hope you understand that when we had to choose between providing basic necessities to our citizens or fighting about five more days in Iraq and Afghanistan because of [insert newest justification here], we clearly just had to choose the wars over you.

These few bits of news are worth considering in relation to each other. Our choices have consequences.


Above: Yates address on drug trafficking, below: Yates meets President Mills at Osu Castle.

THE UNITED States Military Command for Africa (AFRICOM) has pledged to strengthen military ties with Ghana’s Military High Command and the Ghana Armed Forces towards enhancing Ghana’s democratic regime and good governance.

A delegation led by Mary Carlin Yates, Deputy Commander for Civil Activities of the US Military Africa Command, called on President John Mills at the Osu Castle yesterday [Wednesday March 4] and commended Ghana for the impressive elections held recently.

Yates and President Mills exchanged a number of compliments on democracy in each others countries. I do not think Yates was strictly honest in this, as I suspect the US wanted to interfere in the recent elections in Ghana, and may have made some attempt. Luckily, the interference was nothing to the scale of the interference with Kenya’s presidential election. Jendayi Frazer, U.S Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, was in Ghana just before the December 28 runoff: Frazer meets the press. At about the same time there was talk in the Ghanaian press about “power sharing”, and I suspect that was her work. It was unpopular, and inappropriate to the circumstances.

I think the previous US government and the AFRICOM establishment were far more comfortable working with the previous NPP government, not so much for ideological reasons, but because the NPP government was reliably corruptable. And I’m sure AFRICOM, which already has a robust presence, will try to expand in Ghana. The corruption quotient remains to be seen for the new government. I am a little bit optimistic, and very worried. I think the intentions of the present government are good for now, but the drug money and the coming oil money will be powerful forces encouraging corruption. And, with special thanks to the Kufuor government, corruption is seen by many in Ghana as the way government and business “works”. Not that there was no corruption before, but in the last eight years it was encouraged, and grew exponentially.

Drugs were one of the reasons Yates visited Ghana. As I have written before, drugs are the tool AFRICOM will use to infiltrate into Ghana. It is thanks to the counter effective US “War on Drugs” that the drug trade has moved to West Africa. The primary beneficiaries of the War on Drugs have been defense and security contractors, the same folks who are looking to AFRICOM for more contracts.

As I have written before:

The US War on Drugs has been a failure for at least half a century. It started long before Nixon, as the article indicates. You can read a history of it here: How America Lost the War on Drugs.

… the catastrophe along the [Mexican] border looks like a final reckoning for overseas interdiction. ” It’s like a balloon effect – we’ve never succeeded in cutting off the traffic, we’ve just pushed it around,”

But nobody is giving up the pretense that the effort is serious and worthwhile.

“It is absolutely shocking what has happened — the increase in drugs,” Ambassador Mary Carlin Yates says. …

… West Africa has seen a dramatic increase in narcotics trafficking, with an estimated $2 billion worth of cocaine crossing the mid-Atlantic from South and Central America. A majority of the drugs passing through West Africa are headed for Europe.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates at least 50 tons of cocaine transits through West Africa each year. Local communities are increasingly disrupted because drug traffickers pay their transport costs in cocaine instead of money, increasing the amount of narcotics available to populations.

In Ghana, as part of a larger US government program, US Africom is helping to fund drug screening equipment and upgrades at Ghana’s international airport to support Ghanaian counter-narcotics and customs programs.

Africom also is helping to fund a police evidence storage and training facility to provide more capacity in storing evidence in support of counter-drug operations. The goal is to assist in achieving a greater number of lawful convictions. The facility includes a training center and computer lab, with estimated completion this summer.

Before arriving in Ghana, Yates visited Cape Verde where she talked cooperation in counter-narcotics, illegal fishing, and illegal trafficking.

Yates is meeting with a range of officials to discuss how regional militaries can cooperate in partnership with police and other security organizations to address the growing trend of illegal narcotics, illegal fishing, and other criminal maritime activities.

Cocaine is a serious problem for Ghana. AFRICOM offers hype rather than help. Please keep in mind that the AFRICOM programs to counter drug trafficking, illegal fishing, and other police and security functions were not funded. Talk is cheap.

AFRICAN COASTAL AND BORDER SECURITY PROGRAM (ACBS) – provides specialized equipment (such as patrol vessels and vehicles, communications equipment, night vision devices, and electronic monitors and sensors) to African countries to improve their ability to patrol and defend their own coastal waters and borders from terrorist operations, smuggling, and other illicit activities … No dedicated funding was requested for FY 2008 [or for 2007]
From: AFRICOM from Bush to Obama

So the militarization of political space continues. This comes at a particularly dangerous time for Ghana. The coming expected oil revenues will create dangerous expectations, temptations, and pressures. A military strengthened beyond the control of civil institutions is a grave danger for any country. The active interference of AFRICOM, spells grave danger. Using AFRICOM, the US is already engaged in supporting and choosing sides in internal politics in African countries, most visibly in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. So far the same people are running Africa policy for Obama that ran it for Bush. This is a time to be wary.

click on the link for description and history of the ship

The USS Fort McHenry is on its way to the Gulf of Guinea to establish the continuing presence of Africom (Operation Recolonize?) It departed October 16. Or, as a headline in the African Oil Journal puts it:

USS Fort McHenry Navy Ship Left for Gulf of Guinea to protect Oil Interests:

The Gulf of Guinea has significant strategic importance because a large percentage of U.S. oil imports flow through it and U.S. officials are concerned about organized crime, and potentially terrorism, in the region.
. . .

“It provides a good example of what the newly established U.S. Africa Command is about as it relates to helping our partner nations on the continent of Africa build their capacity to better govern their spaces, to have more effect in providing for the security of their people, as well as doing the things that are important in assuring the development of the continent in ways that promote increased globalization of their economies as well as the development of their societies for the betterment of their people,” said the general.

General Ward says Africa Command will do the same type of training and humanitarian assistance missions the U.S. military has pursued in Africa for years, but will do more and will have better coordination with other U.S. government agencies, humanitarian groups and African governments.

He says such missions should help dispel concerns expressed in many African countries about alleged plans establish U.S. bases on the continent and to ‘militarize’ U.S. Africa policy.

“Once the command begins to operate, they will see that this hype of establishing large bases is just not a reality,” said General Ward.
. . .

The commander of U.S. Navy forces in Europe, who is responsible for the Africa Partnership Station mission, says even with Africa Command not yet fully operational, the navy is moving from what he called ‘episodic’ involvement on the continent to a nearly constant presence, in response to requests from African countries.

At Moon of Alabama b real has some particularly cogent reporting and analysis on the launch of AFRICOM and the USS Fort McHenry. I recommend you go there and take a look.

The goal of AFRICOM is to guard US oil interests, as the headline so clearly states. The proffered partnerships are to train African militaries to do the jobs the US wants done. This process is already well underway. As Vijay Prashad points out, African armies have increasingly become praetorian guards to protect the interests of large corporations. These “partnerships” AFRICOM touts are intended to be part of that “nearly constant presence”. In the article quoted above, General Ward brushes off the idea of large bases. The US will maintain a number of floating bases. Although I suspect it is still looking for a land base. The US may not need a land base to accomplish its objectives if it can manipulate its “partners” to its satisfaction.

When we hear talk of military partnerships, we should remember the ongoing US & Latin America military partnership, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) formerly the School of the Americas (SOA) and still based in Ft. Benning Georgia. It has been a military coup factory for Latin America.

SOA has trained more than 60,000 Latin American soldiers and policemen. Among its graduates are many of the continent’s most notorious torturers, mass murderers, dictators and state terrorists. As hundreds of pages of documentation compiled by the pressure group SOA Watch show, Latin America has been ripped apart by its alumni.

In fact, this year, August 2007, SOA Watch tells us:

A recent criminal investigation into the Colombian Army’s Third Brigade, has prompted the arrest of thirteen high ranking officers accused of providing security and mobilizing troops for Diego Montoya (alias “Don Diego”), the leader of the Norte del Valle Cartel and one of the FBI’s 10 most-wanted criminals.

Two former instructors of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC) are among the thirteen.
. . .
Over HALF of the thirteen military officials implicated in the drug cartel protection ring attended the U.S. Army School of the Americas and/or its successor institute, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

Africa has already experienced more than its share of military coups. Coups stop progress and development dead in their tracks. We don’t need more. There are already unfortunate ties between Latin American drug cartels and West Africa. Do we want the US military facilitating these ties, with African officers making contacts for the drug trade as part of their training? The US has been a complete failure in its war on drugs. There is NO reason to think it will do better in Africa, a continent about which it knows almost nothing.

The reference to increased globalization is likewise chilling. I see globalization and I think evisceration. The phrasing sounds like they are planning to open up Africa and pry out what they think are the good bits. It tells Africans that yet again they will be subsidizing the developed world with both blood and treasure.

Pay is low in Ghana, and it can be a long time between paychecks. A policeman makes the equivalent of about $100 per month. On this he needs to feed his family, clothe them, pay school fees, and housing expenses. This low pay is an invitation to corruption, especially when the citizens see the people at the top taking bribes, “gifts”, and profiting from the drug trade. Everyone gets the message that this is how business is done.

In December a number of prison workers in my region were not paid, and had to ask for credit in order to buy food to celebrate Christmas with their families. I have posted before about health care workers low pay and incentive to move abroad, citing this article in the New England Journal of Medicine that describes the issue.

If the police and the prison workers cannot make ends meet, how can we expect them to uphold the law fairly, bring criminals to justice, and keep convicted criminals jailed. Big criminals, whose crimes, such as drug dealing bring large profits, are in a very good position to bribe their way out of legal entanglements if the people responsible for enforcing the law cannot make a living wage. Reports vary on if, and how well, the Ghana government is enforcing the drug laws.

Recently, a post on Say It Loud read:

I travelled to Holland some days ago, and at the last check point before entering the plane, I was SHOCKED to be SEARCHED (not only me, but all the passengers) by some white foreigners. I asked them who gave them the power to search Ghanaians, at the last check point & the answer was: “Your govt.” we’re looking for drugs’) I almost fell down. This was real & were searched by Kufuor’s own white Security people. What happened to our local (Ghanaian) security personnel?

In reply, another comment stated a particularly important point:

I am sure that if we give Ghanaians the same training and the SAME SALARY that these white men are given, they will do a better job.

Another comment added:

They (those looking for drugs) should go to the VIP lounge.
The VIP lounge is where the NPP top dogs (Kufuor administration) pass with their drug cargoes.

Dora Akunyili is the Director General of Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). She is known around the world, and particularly admired as a hero in Africa for her toughness and courage in her successful fight to rid Nigeria of counterfeit drugs. Her sister died due to fake drugs. Her office has been burned down, her laboratories vandalised, and her house broken into. She has even been shot at. When she started her job, about 80% of the drugs on the Nigerian market were fake. She has reduced that to 10%, which she still calls unacceptable.

NAFDAC has more information on her including the lengthy list of her awards.

She continues her courageous fight. More details about her biography and efforts are here:

Dora Akunyili’s battle against counterfeit food and medicines in Nigeria is removing dangerous fakes and saving lives. Although the struggle has nearly cost her own life, she is determined to fight on.

Dora Akunyili, director general of the Nigerian National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), has been shot at, attacked, seen her office burned down, her laboratories vandalised and had her house broken into. She has been intimidated, harassed and blackmailed and her staff have been beaten up. Just last month, in an investigation at a market, her investigators and police were attacked and six cars were destroyed. But none of this has stopped her fight against counterfeit drugs.

Director General of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC)

Her worst day came on December 26 2003. Driving near her village, she was shot at from another car. A nearby bus driver was killed, and she narrowly survived: “The bullet scraped my back and burned my scalp like a hot water bottle.” The gunmen were later brought to trial and proven to have links with drug counterfeiters.

Since her appointment to NAFDAC in 2001, Akunyili – who has a PhD in pharmacology and still supervises graduate students at the College of Medicine – has tackled the threat of counterfeit drugs head on. When she started, about 80% of drugs in the market were fake, companies such as Boehringer, Merck and Sandoz had all withdrawn from the country, and local manufacturers were closing down because they could no longer compete. Worse, she says, the counterfeits were causing illness and disease: “People were dying like rats. My own sister died thanks to counterfeit insulin and that hit me. All families in Nigeria have experienced the effects of counterfeits.”

Akunyili was appointed by President Olusegun Obasanjo after developing a name for her honesty: in 1999, she was given £12,000 by her then employer for surgery in London, but when the surgery proved unnecessary she returned the money to the chief executive. He told her: “I did not know there were Nigerians with integrity.” Her reputation spread and one Sunday, out of the blue, she had a phone call from the president who said he wanted someone to clean up NAFDAC, the agency which regulates and controls the import, sale and advertising of all drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, processed food and drinks for Nigeria’s 131 million people. After initial confusion (“I thought it was a con-man”) she went to a meeting the following Tuesday and was given the job, even though “some ministers and politicians were very much against me because they wanted their own people”. Like many of the counterfeiters she fights, she comes from the Igbo tribe.

Today, the piracy rate for pharmaceuticals has come down to 10%, a figure that Akunyili says is “still unacceptable”. Although she says the campaign has “succeeded much more than we ever expected,” she thinks it is “realistic” to reduce the rate to single figures. The death rate in hospitals has fallen, multinationals are returning and 24 new drugs manufacturing outfits have been established. In the four-and-a-half years to September 2005, N10 billion ($80.5 million) worth of fake drugs and substandard products were destroyed and some 50 people convicted of fake drugs-related crimes in court. And, says Akunyili, the counterfeiters are on the run: “The hunter has become the hunted.”

NAFDAC’s extraordinary success in challenging the counterfeiting problem has come about more through determination and patience than through spectacular ideas. “Knowledge of the problem is half the solution,” says Akunyili, who introduced a NAFDAC number for all drugs and food products so that consumers know they are buying an authentic product. Advertising encourages them to check the number and expiry date. This simple measure saw the number of products without a NAFDAC number drop by 80% between 2002 and 2004.

The Agency has also focused on stopping counterfeits coming into the country. Since many come from India and China, the Agency now analyzes goods in those countries before they are exported. It works with importers and banks, and staff go to markets to buy samples and test them. NAFDAC also undertakes systematic surveillance at all entry points to the country. Factories producing drugs must be certified; market stalls are subject to inspection; hawkers on buses will be thrown off. Bakeries have been closed down for using potassium bromate as a bread improver while makers of fake vegetable oil and packaged water have been raided. Above all, Akunyili has made it clear that she will not tolerate any corruption within NAFDAC.

NAFDAC’s achievements have also brought personal recognition for Akunyili: last year she was the sole recipient of the Grassroot Human Rights Campaigner Award from the Human Rights Defence organization in London and was also presented with the 2005 industrial award by the International Pharmaceutical Federation in Cairo, Egypt. Her CV lists a further 260 awards and recognitions given to her in Nigeria and overseas.

NAFDAC’s work demonstrates how developing countries can tackle counterfeiters. But, says Akunyili, further work needs to be done. In particular, the law needs to be strengthened as drugs counterfeiting remains more attractive to criminals than gun running or cocaine dealing. Recent efforts have also focused on addressing the problem throughout the west Africa region: many counterfeiters who were driven out of Nigeria initially fled to Congo. A forum of west African drugs authorities was held in Abuja three months ago to ensure that “counterfeiters will not find a safe haven anywhere”.