Ghanaians returning from Libya

Bringing together a collection of reports –

Cameron Duodu writes:

Right now, Gaddafi is a big danger to black Africans. Any black person found in Libya is likely to be given very short shrift by the white-skinned section of the Arab population, which believes that Gaddafi has imported – or is importing – blacks from Chad, Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Liberia and anywhere else that he has followers, to go and fight for him.

One Ghanaian who was among the first batch of about 100 that safely returned home, told reporters ‘that some blacks were being caught and “beheaded”. There are estimated to be a further 10,000 Ghanaians still left, whom the Ghana government is trying to evacuate home.’

Diana Johnstone writes in CounterPunch: Libya: Is This Kosovo All Over Again?

Today, from the way media report on the large number of refugees leaving Libya since the troubles began, the public could get the impression that they are fleeing persecution by Qaddafi. As is frequently the case, media focuses on the superficial image without seeking explanations. A bit of reflection may fill the information gap. It is hardly likely that Qaddafi is chasing away the foreign workers that his regime brought to Libya to carry out important infrastructure projects. Rather it is fairly clear that some of the “democratic” rebels have attacked the foreign workers out of pure xenophobia. Qaddafi’s openness to Africans in particular is resented by a certain number of Arabs. But not too much should be said about this, since they are now our “good guys”. This is a bit the way Albanian attacks on Roma in Kosovo were overlooked or excused by NATO occupiers on the grounds that “the Roma had collaborated with the Serbs”.

In Gaddafi’s ‘African mercenaries’: Myth or reality? Dibussi Tande brings us reports from several bloggers:

myweku writes about the worrying racist undertones of claims that Gaddafi is using ‘African mercenaries’ to kill Libyan protesters:

According to a United Nations Human Rights statement – ‘Libya must end its practices of racial discrimination against black Africans, particularly its racial persecution of two million black African migrant workers. There is substantial evidence of Libya’s pattern and practice of racial discrimination against migrant workers’…

‘Africans in the main have been sympathetic and supportive of the desires of Tunisians and Egyptians in their protests. However, the African media and forums are beginning to ask if the prominence and publicity given to so called African mercenaries running amok amongst Libyan protesters pillaging and raping is beginning to tell a rather interesting story about the motives of some Libyan protesters.’

Tomathon.com explains why it is necessary to challenge the generally accepted narrative of the sanguinary ‘African mercenary’ in Libya:

‘But like much of northern Africa, in Libya there is a long history of fear, hatred, and oppression based on skin color. There is a distinct minority of “black” Libyans whose slave origins mean they are still regarded with contempt by some, as there is a large number of political and economic refugees in what is a relatively prosperous state… And while oppression organized by skin color has a long history, the Gaddafi regime has contributed a different angle to this prejudice: the foreign fighter.

‘Photos and videos, many horrific, have been provided of a handful (I have seen five total) dead uniformed soldiers with varying degrees of dark skin. This is hardly proof of the hysterical rhetoric built around thousands of black Africans raping women and murdering protesters…

Sky, Soil & Everything in Between writes an open letter to Al Jazeera alerting them of the unintended consequences of using the term ‘African mercenaries’:

I think continually pushing a singular narrative about a more complex story has the danger of reinforcing an African and Arab narrative that has an uncomfortable racial connotation to it. I am not accusing Al Jazeera of having a racial bias, far from it. I just feel it’s important for the network to be sensitive to how this issue plays out to an international audience of both Black Africans and Arabs when the full story is untold…

The New York Times reports on the plight of those stuck in Tripoli:

As wealthier nations send boats and planes to rescue their citizens from the violence in Libya, a new refugee crisis is taking shape on the outskirts of Tripoli, where thousands of migrant workers from sub-Saharan Africa have been trapped with scant food and water, no international aid and little hope of escape.

The airport refugees, along with tens of thousands of other African migrants lucky enough to make it across the border to Tunisia, are the most desperate contingent of a vast exodus that has already sent almost 200,000 foreigners fleeing the country since the outbreak of the popular revolt against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi nearly three weeks ago.

Dark-skinned Africans say the Libyan war has caught them in a vise. The heavily armed police and militia forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi who guard checkpoints along the roads around the capital rob them of their money, possessions and cellphone chips, the migrants say. And the Libyans who oppose Colonel Qaddafi lash out at the African migrants because they look like the dark-skinned mercenaries many here say the Libyan leader has recruited to crush the uprising

Ghana has made some effort to repatriate Ghanaian nationals from Libya, as in the photo above, and I understand Nigeria and Kenya have as well, but it is just a drop in the bucket. I hope it will continue.

Are there African mercenaries in Libya?

The United States is not helping the Africans, many Ghanaians and Nigerians, stranded in Libya to return to their homes, although it did help Egyptians. The United States is concerned about protecting potential mercenaries (from somewhere) demanding exemption from potential prosecutions by the ICC.

While publicly calling for an end to impunity, the US at a Council experts’ meeting on the morning of February 26 demanded the following paragraph:

6. Decides that nationals, current or former officials or personnel from a State outside the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya which is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court shall be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of that State for all alleged acts or omissions arising out of or related to operations in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya established or authorized by the Council, unless such exclusive jurisdiction has been expressly waived by the State.

… It was a red line for the United States. It was a deal-breaker, and that’s the reason we accepted this text to have the unanimity of the Council.

And then there is this from FDL:

From Ma’an (and Arabic and Hebrew sources):

TEL AVIV, Israel (Ma’an) — An Israeli company is recruiting mercenaries to support Moammar Gadhafi’s efforts to suppress an uprising against his regime, an Israeli news site said Tuesday.

Citing Egyptian sources, the Hebrew-language news site Inyan Merkazi said the company was run by retired Israeli army commanders.

The report claims that many high-profile former Israeli officers have been illegally trading weapons in several African nations, and have faced interrogations over their activities in the past.

The news site said the head of the company recently met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israeli intelligence chief Aviv Cokhavi. It added that the officials all approved the company’s recruitment of mercenaries to help Gadhafi.

So, as we contemplate sending in U.S. forces to battle these mercenaries provided – in part – by “our greatest ally in the Middle East” – will the U.S. media just let it happen and bury the fact that Americans are being killed by people hired by Israelis?

An FDL post the next day continues:

The United States, the UN security council, Israel, Britain and France, and NATO will all demonstrate an amazing use of force, claiming to be helping the rebels, when in fact they are really trying to crush the rebels, cutoff their arms supply, create a corridor that allows Israeli-funded mercenaries to resupply Gaddafi, and then grant IMMUNITY to those Israeli-funded mercenaries as they commit their war crimes. While the US looks on with its military obediently monitoring the situation.

The United States wants Gaddafi gone – eventually. To be replaced with a more pliable puppet. But the US doesn’t want the leaders and heroes of this uprising in Libya to be successful either. The US needs those intelligentsia of the nation, the politicians, military leaders, and true patriots of Libya to be crushed first.

I hope this is not the case, but just the reports muddy the waters and make life even more dangerous and difficult for the migrants stranded in Libya.  The language promoted by the US in the UN resolution is very worrying.

Nana Akyea Mensah writes:

[The] People’s Revolution in Libya, unlike the ones in all the other Arab countries which have so far enjoyed our unalloyed solidarity, is being dangerously diluted with politically toxic and and extremely alarming systematic and sporadic attacks on black African migrants living in Libya.

Reports on Al Jazeera show a Ghanaian migrant who claims that black people are being caught, armed and sent to battle front, even though they might not have an idea about what the trigger is even meant for! The effect of the use of “foreign mercenaries”, if true, has completely poisoned the budding Libyan Revolution. The real weapon that has been unleashed by Gaddafi is not those miserable mercenaries, but the reduction of the dignity of the Libyan Revolution into an insane xenophobic tantrum. The people of Libya who have aided these Africans to escape, without even asking to be paid, need to be mentioned and thanked and to balance the perspectives, and encourage such positive tendencies still found within the Libyan communities and individuals who do not see all black Africans as mercenaries.

H. Vincent Harris, in African refugees trapped in Libya, tells us:

Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Uri Rosenthal reacted to the Libyan crisis with two goals: “Let’s get Dutch citizens out of Libya safely and make sure no more immigrants reach Europe.”

Meanwhile, the Italian government’s reaction focused on the “threat of massive immigration from Libya.”

The U.N. recently published a report on racism in Libya against the 2 million Sub-Saharan migrant workers.

In that context, we read about the fate of thousands of stranded African refugees inside Libya. Adding to their hopeless situation is Gaddafi’s use of African mercenaries. The mercenary story has of course been widely published and will soon be circulating at high speed throughout the African blogosphere. Ethiopian, Eritrean and Somali bloggers have already geared up in a desperate cry for help.

Yusuf Dirir Ali, a Somali blogger writes, “Many angry mobs are targeting Black Africans after reports that the government was using ‘African mercenaries’ to repress the revolt was transmitted by Western media.” Another Somali blogger, Somali for Jesus, repeated this cry for help.

Europeans will try very hard to keep this story out of the news. They want us to see instead pictures of “our” pilots flying European and American citizens to Crete or Cyprus. Somalilandpress reported the lynching of four Somali immigrants in Libya. In all likelihood, these lynching were a response to the stories of mercenaries killing Libyans in the street of Tripoli.

European governments, like the Netherlands, helped Libya to create a buffer against Southern African immigration to Europe.

“African refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea have told us that just being a Black face in Libya is very dangerous at the moment,” UNHCR spokeswoman Sybella Wilkes told Reuters.

Rosebell Kagumire considers the problem:

How do you prove that you are just an immigrant not a mercenary? It’s a question I have been pondering on the week and it’s a situation that thousands of Africans stuck in the Libya uprising have to deal with, that is if they are given chance.

After the story of the African -the immigrant, came the African -the mercenary as Gaddafi became increasingly violent and killing hundreds of Libyans. Social networks and twitter were abuzz with words African mercenaries, some with outright racial undertones. Some tweets suggested Gaddafi had “brought Africans to break into their homes and rape their women.”

I thought ok, recent African civil wars which have been characterised by rape used as weapon of war have not helped perceptions about the continent that often people want to project! This rape aspect has been repeated in many tweets although we are yet to see reports on actual cases of rape in the international media.

Today I watched Al Jazeera showing a tweet from Redafayr linking mercenaries to 20 African countries where Tamoil, a Libyan petroleum company operates. Today Reuters reported that the rebel National Libyan Council in Benghazi, the insurgent capital said it believed Niger, Mali and Kenya were sending troops to support Gaddafi, who is now directing his forces from Tripoli.

These kinds of statements can only further fuel anger among those opposed to Gaddafi and puts more lives of immigrants held up in houses and other hiding places in Libya at great danger. We have seen reports that indicate dozens of immigrants have so far been killed. These are not deaths inflicted on the ‘Gaddafi’s African mercenaries’ but on African immigrants that have nothing to do with the parties in the conflict.

We have seen slow reaction and attention on international scene and on the part of the African Union and African countries on the mercenary issue. We have not seen bold statements against these xenophobic attacks.

U.N. officials have warned that the latest charges from the council in Benghazi could escalate attacks on African migrants in rebel-held areas. We are yet to see the full coverage of the story of the African ‘the mercenary’ in Libya. We have seen a few pictures that came from protesters but the story is one of the hard ones to get and it will probably take as long as the uprising itself to know the entire story.

While there have been reports of many kind Libyans volunteering to watch over those immigrants that made it to camps, generally many on the continent fear that the impact of racial discrimination not only against immigrants but also black Libyans will continue to be manifested alongside the story of the African mercenary.

We will take long to see a positive story for instance on what African immigrants have contributed to the Libyan economy and how their absence could be felt in either post Gaddafi or post protests Libya.


The article Towards a Nomadic Fortress mentioned in my previous post, has a lot to consider when thinking about the contemporary functions of borders.

No longer just a question of contested territory, hard boundary lines, and stricter border enforcement between two nations, but a space that functions more ubiquitously on several paradoxes around global mobility and a rise in detention markets, detention politics, national security as the new global architecture.

Rather than a single structure, the nomadic fortress is a whole syntax of control spaces linked across multiple landscapes that constitute perhaps the world’s first universal border fence, loosely connected across continents through a kind of geopolitical geometry that super-imposes a border just as much as enforces one between the First World and the Global South. It is, you might say, the Great Wall of Globalization.

This space has no regard for borders any more as we traditionally understand them, no respect for national territory; it hovers over and slips between those definitions, goes around and under them when it needs to, ultimately passing through border fixity as it sees fit. It is in some way the final border, a border that is never at rest but is always modifying itself for greater tactical vantage; a kind of flexible mock-hydrological regime that deploys and aligns other sub-border levers and valves below it to secure the conduits of neoliberal capitalism and the flows of people who are captives of them in one way or another.

This border doesn’t take the defensive posture that borders traditionally have in the past, but instead is on the move and on the hunt for a new class of would-be border crossers who’ve been bound together in a dangerously wide-cast surveillance net that is incapable of distinguishing the refugee from the enemy combatant, the migrant from the smuggler, laborer from insurgent.

Finoki draws a global hydrologic picture of borders. He provides a lot to think about when we think about our home countries, or about wherever we may travel.

capital is devising an unprecedented perimeter that encircles the global south through a flexible and strategic militarization of cross-border flows and refugee internment.

Since commerce, goods, and information now flow freely within a kind of liquid society of transnational interplay, the substrata of cross-border migration has become more of a parched landscape where liquidity and fluidity (in terms of movement) have been extremely deprived. Instead, the nomadic routes of migrants and refugees are dictated by tactical arrangements of concrete embankments, unsurpassable berms, dangerous ditches, trenches, and other deployed dikes and levees strictly designed to prevent the north from being flooded by the populations of the south. We can think of these floodgates as goliath mechanisms of bio-political hydrology, re-flooding certain labor zones and reservoirs with migrants ripe for exploitation while drying up other labor wetlands altogether where manufacturing industries have evaporated or moved on to different regions. Today’s border fences are less about stopping the flows of mass migration than they are about engineering a whole taxonomy of barriers that can identify and redirect them, informally outsourcing the pools of global labor from one geography to another. And while some routes are pushed deeper underground by all of this, other subterranean passages are merely forced to the surface. This massive border hydrology is shifting human resettlement patterns for generations to come.

The political implications of this are huge, and the political results are already well underway. But I have not seen the issue addressed as a global issue other than here. It is certainly worthy of more discussion and examination.

I am a member of a commission that awards about half a dozen scholarships per year to the local community college. A scholarship pays for a full year of in state tuition, and students can reapply for more than one year. This two year college does a very good job of educating students who come from all over the world, providing them with associate degrees that will give them chances to get better jobs, and to further their careers. Many of the applicants come to the US from other countries. Most came here with their families when they were younger. Some are separated from their families. Many of them were displaced from their homes by war. And the US has often had varying degrees of involvement or responsibility for these wars.

Last night we reviewed the applicants for this year. They were a good group, most with real potential. There was one girl applying this year who fled Sudan. Her family fled and she heard her father had died. Her mother kept them together, fed and sheltered. But war came again. Her mother had a breakdown, and they had to drug her in order to bring her with them when they fled. Eventually she and her family arrived in the United States, and she attended public schools. Another young applicant had fled war in Guatemala, a country in which the US has had a long involvement, managed to get to the United States and attend public schools. Over the six years I have been on this commission we have read many biographical essays by many students who have fled horrors, and suffered here, but refuse to quit.

There are opportunities in the United States, but it is not a kindly place, particularly these days. If you are undocumented it can be brutal. People here, including citizens, often live isolated lives with no support network. If you have a child, or children, there is often no one to turn to for help. And undocumented immigrants often have no legal protections. Many immigrants, in fact many citizens, have to work multiple jobs, because one job may not even pay housing costs. The young applicants we review lead complicated lives, and their stories are often heart breaking. Making the scholarship decision is often very difficult because all the applicants have financial need, and all are deserving. Not all our applicants are immigrants, among those who are immigrants, some are economic refugees, but many are here because their families fled war. In their essays many of these young people say they wish to be back in their own countries, without war.

After spending my evening reviewing these applicants and their stories, and the mostly glowing recommendations from their teachers, this morning I read the latest post from Riverbend in Baghdad. She and her family are leaving Baghdad. She writes:

The Great Wall of Segregation…

…Which is the wall the current Iraqi government is building (with the support and guidance of the Americans). It’s a wall that is intended to separate and isolate what is now considered the largest ‘Sunni’ area in Baghdad- let no one say the Americans are not building anything. According to plans the Iraqi puppets and Americans cooked up, it will ‘protect’ A’adhamiya, a residential/mercantile area that the current Iraqi government and their death squads couldn’t empty of Sunnis.

The wall, of course, will protect no one. I sometimes wonder if this is how the concentration camps began in Europe. The Nazi government probably said, “Oh look- we’re just going to protect the Jews with this little wall here- it will be difficult for people to get into their special area to hurt them!” And yet, it will also be difficult to get out.

The Wall is the latest effort to further break Iraqi society apart. Promoting and supporting civil war isn’t enough, apparently- Iraqis have generally proven to be more tenacious and tolerant than their mullahs, ayatollahs, and Vichy leaders. It’s time for America to physically divide and conquer- like Berlin before the wall came down or Palestine today. This way, they can continue chasing Sunnis out of “Shia areas” and Shia out of “Sunni areas”.

I always hear the Iraqi pro-war crowd interviewed on television from foreign capitals (they can only appear on television from the safety of foreign capitals because I defy anyone to be publicly pro-war in Iraq). They refuse to believe that their religiously inclined, sectarian political parties fueled this whole Sunni/Shia conflict. They refuse to acknowledge that this situation is a direct result of the war and occupation. They go on and on about Iraq’s history and how Sunnis and Shia were always in conflict and I hate that. I hate that a handful of expats who haven’t been to the country in decades pretend to know more about it than people actually living there.

I remember Baghdad before the war- one could live anywhere. We didn’t know what our neighbors were- we didn’t care. No one asked about religion or sect. No one bothered with what was considered a trivial topic: are you Sunni or Shia? You only asked something like that if you were uncouth and backward. Our lives revolve around it now. Our existence depends on hiding it or highlighting it- depending on the group of masked men who stop you or raid your home in the middle of the night.
(emphasis mine)

The United States needs to deal with other countries in ways in which the military is the last option, not the first. Oil has been behind a number of the wars that have sent refugees fleeing into other countries and to the US. Oil is behind the Iraq war. And oil is behind recent US interest in Africa, including Ghana. That is the background for creating the US Africa Command. The people involved in Africom talk about leading with diplomacy, and talk about peaceful intentions. I recently heard a soldier interviewed on TV who said, the job of soldiers is to kill people and break their stuff (he said as opposed to police, whose job is to protect people and protect their stuff.) As long as your military is your lead contact with a country, the people you contact are in danger. The US should not be making it unsafe for people to stay in their own countries.

Mr Kwesi Dzidzienyo, IFESH/Ghana Country Representative, presenting medical
supplies to the Tetteh Quarshie Memorial Hospital, Mapong-Akwapim.

The February 1 issue of the New England Journal of medicine has an article by Fitzhugh Mullen MD about the flight of Ghanaian professionals out of Ghana, to the United States and Europe. Doctors and nurses can make a lot more money in the US or UK.

“It’s the same for football players as it is for doctors,” I was told by Tsiri Agbenyega, dean of the medical school in Kumasi, Ghana. “We have to train a lot more than will end up in Ghana, because they all leave. The football players go to Europe, and the doctors to America and the U.K.” Agbenyega spoke with a mixture of frustration, pride, and resignation. He was pleased that Ghanaian athletes and physicians were competitive internationally, but their success meant a loss to the country — a loss more problematic in medicine than in football.
. . .
Ghana has a strong tradition of education, a public health system that has resulted in greater longevity and lower infant mortality than in much of West Africa . . . If Ghana could show the way, one might think, other African countries might be able to follow.
But not so. For much of the past decade, health improvement in Ghana has been at a standstill . . . Today, there are 532 Ghanaian doctors practicing in the United States. Although they represent a tiny fraction of the 800,000 U.S. physicians, their number is equivalent to 20% of Ghana’s medical capacity, for there are only 2600 physicians in Ghana. An additional 259 Ghanaian physicians are in practice in the United Kingdom and Canada — and this group includes only those who have successfully been licensed after leaving Ghana.
. . .
“Our only recourse is to try to train more in the hopes we will keep more,” explained Yaw Boasiako of Ghana’s Ministry of Health, who outlined an ambitious plan for doubling the number of physicians and nurses educated in the next few years. Ghana, like many English-speaking developing countries, is caught in an educational conundrum: the better the quality of their universities and the more health professionals they train, the more they lose to the United States and the United Kingdom. They have a leaky bucket now. In desperation, they’re building a bigger leaky bucket.

But that’s not all they’re doing. As in most developing countries, the private medical sector is small, and most physicians work for the government health service, which staffs the public hospitals and clinics where most people receive care. Although the salaries of Ghanaian doctors are better than those in many African countries, doctors are quick to point out that their pay is still modest. “A trained physician can make more in London in two months than we can make in a year in Ghana,” I was told frequently.
. . .
To augment physicians’ services, the ministries of health and education are expanding training opportunities for community health nurses, technical officers, and “medical assistants” — midlevel practitioners who substitute for doctors in shortage areas. For many years, the Rural Health Training School in Kintampo has provided experienced nurses with a year of advanced training and 6 months of internship to enable them to function independently as medical assistants. The school is doubling its class size to 200 but is changing to a non-nurse model, since the loss of nurses to emigration has depleted the ranks of program candidates. In the future, medical assistants will be secondary-school graduates who will receive 3 years of didactic training followed by a year of internship. Although all health care workers are subject to the pull of emigration, the global market for midlevel practitioners is not standardized, and the government hopes that most medical assistants will remain in Ghana.

. . . the single most important contribution that the United States could make would be to train more doctors at home . . . For 25 years, the number of students admitted to U.S. allopathic medical schools has remained constant, while the number of physicians we import has climbed steadily. Without ever enunciating a strategy of dependence on the world, we have created a huge U.S. market for physicians educated elsewhere, inadvertently destabilizing the medical systems of countries that are battling poverty and epidemic disease.

A commitment in the United States to ramp up medical school opportunities to a level closer to national needs would do much to slow medical migration and bring stability to medical programs in poorer countries. Perhaps soccer players will always migrate to the elite leagues of the world, but if doctors and nurses stayed closer to home, lives would be saved.

I would add that although medical professionals may be able to make a lot more money in the US or UK, there is a good chance they can live a lot better and more enjoyably in Ghana. At the same time, the Ghana government has to pay good professional salaries, and pay them on time.

The US should educate more of its own doctors and nurses. Unfortunately the Republican education policies of the last several decades have severely damaged US educational resources and opportunities. I’m hoping the tide is finally turning on this, but nothing is going to happen very fast.

Read the whole NEJM article: Doctors and Soccer Players — African Professionals on the Move.

Ghana has a wealth of knowledge and talent, but too much of that talent has travelled away from Ghana. German President Dr. Horst Kohler has been visiting Ghana, and among the things he discussed was the brain drain, of educated professionals out of Ghana. Dr. Kohler said essentially the same thing as Dr. Ali Mazrui in a lecture about the brain drain from all of Africa:

. . . as much as there existed ‘pull-in’ factors that attracted the continent’s professionals to, especially, the western world there was the need to look at the ‘push-out’ factors and address them.

Ghana’s successes are beginning to attract back some of her professionals. At least there are a number of people I know who are talking about returning to Ghana, and a number have already gone home. But in Ghana there is one big “push-out” factor that I see. Not only are salaries too low in terms of cost of living, workers are not paid on time, or regularly, or sometimes even at all, and this includes government workers, especially outside the capitol. There are many highly skilled and dedicated people in Ghana. But if they cannot earn a living, even when they have a job, leaving Ghana becomes more tempting. If the government just paid its workers regularly and on time, it could keep many more dedicated professionals who love Ghana. The same is true for businesses and individual employers.

As The Chronicle says:

The Ghanaian worker, has, since Independence been called upon to sacrifice for brighter days, which never seem to come and going by the figures on what is paid expatriates, The Chronicle believes we can do better for our professionals to minimize the ‘push-out’ factors.