Two items came out this past week that are intimately related, although probably not intentionally linked. Foreign Policy and The Fund For Peace released their annual Index of Failed States. Africa Ia A Country calls them out, it is a failed index.

We at Africa Is a Country think Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace should either radically rethink the Failed States Index, which they publish in collaboration each year, or abandon it altogether. We just can’t take it seriously: It’s a failed index.

Foreign Policy’s 2012 Failed States Index, note the color key and the continent of Africa.

This year, pro forma, almost the entire African continent shows up on the Failed States map in the guiltiest shade of red. The accusation is that with a handful of exceptions, African states are failing in 2012. But what does this tell us? What does it actually mean? Frankly, we have no idea. The index is so flawed in its conception, so incoherent in its structuring criteria, and so misleading in its presentation that from the perspective of those who live or work in those places condemned as failures, it’s difficult to receive the ranking as anything more than a predictable annual canard issued from Washington, D.C. against non-Western — and particularly African — nations.

The problem is that there are any number of reasons why the Fund for Peace might decide that a state is failing. The Washington-based think tank has a methodology of sorts, but Foreign Policy insists on making the list accessible primarily through a series of “Postcards from Hell.” Flipping through the slide show, it’s impossible to shrug off the suspicion that the whole affair is a sloppy cocktail of cultural bigotries and liberal-democratic commonplaces — a faux-empirical sham that packs quite a nasty racialized aftertaste. How do we know if a state is failing or not? Old chestnuts like the rule of law are certainly considered, but also in play are things like economic growth, economic “success,” poverty, inequality, corruption, nonstate violence, state violence, human rights abuses, body counts, terrorism, health care, “fragility,” political dissent, social divisions, and levels of authoritarianism. And yes, we’ll be indexing all of those at once, and more.

The golden principle by which this muddle is to be marshaled oh-so-objectively into a grand spectrum of state failure coefficients is apparently the idea of “stability.” But is it really?

Stability is where the other item falls into place. William Easterly published the a new ad from the Marine Corps, calling it The Worst Promotional Aid Video of All Time

Courtesy of the Marines, ad during the Euro Cup final paid for with your taxpayer dollars, “Moving towards the sounds of chaos”.

“We are the first to move towards the sounds of tyranny, injustice, and despair” (image of helicopter gunship carrying boxes labelled “aid”)

The target audience of the commercial included vast numbers of people from the majority of the world whose states the Index labels failed or failing.

This is aid at gunpoint, it is also called stability operations, the reason the US Africa Command was created. The notion of stability is meant to be incoherent. It needs to be redefined for each country whose resources the US wants to acquire. Stability operations are needed to quell and control any groups or individuals who may stand in the way of perceived US interests, including acting against legally constituted governments.

Military aid and questionable trade are the twin pillars of US involvement in Africa. Imperial acquisition masquerades as humanitarian aid and manifests as the militarization of the continent through the US Africa Command, AFRICOM. Of course AFRICOM’s fact sheet speaks about working with military partners. These partners are intended to be proxies or surrogates that will provide stability without accountability for corporate interests to extract resources.

Below are stills from the commercial. The invasion pictured is exactly what the US is training itself and its intended African proxies to do along the coasts and in the creeks of the entire continent.

View of coastal military “aid” invasion from helicopter gunship

By sea, by air, military invasion to apply “aid”

Charging through to surf

By land, by sea, by air, bringing “aid” with very big guns

Boxes of Aid, filled with who knows what

Military vehicles carrying boxes marked Aid

View from a helicopter gunship carrying a box marked Aid

The invading forces deliver the Aid at gunpoint

Polling in 2010 revealed something about US citizens’ understanding of the country’s budget. Although 1% of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid, when asked, American’s median response was to say 25% of the budget goes to foreign aid. One may deduce the reason for the discrepancy between the reality and the perception of aid is that many Americans think their military activity around the world is aid. The Marines commercial is certainly intended to reinforce that view.

Stability operations are intended to stabilize a country, not to make it more democratic, not to make its government more accountable, but to make it easier and more efficient for corporations to extract the resources they want from a country. Instead of being self governed, countries are subjected to military occupation with unaccountable NGOs supposedly doing the service work of government. Failed states may be more desirable to deal with than states with democratic or somewhat representative government. Those states must answer to their own people, not US or international corporations. The US has been trying to label Nigeria a failed state for more than a decade. The kind of “humanitarian” invasion so vividly depicted in the commercial (although there is no blood in the commercial) is quite likely to bring, or increase, tyranny, injustice, and despair to the countries it targets.

The US Africa Command puts heavy emphasis on fighting terrorism. But a terrorist may be anyone acting against US perception of its self interest, frequently those called terrorists are just political opposition. You can see this at work in the Index of Failed States.

Foreign Policy explains to its readers that Malawi (No. 36 on this year’s index) is to be considered a failed state on account of the 19 people killed by police during popular protests against Bingu wa Mutharika’s government a year ago. Yet such dissent is evidence of the strength of Malawian civil society and the determination of ordinary Malawians not to get screwed by their government. Malawi is undoubtedly better off for these protests, not worse. What makes the country’s listing as a failed state look even sillier is that Malawi recently endured a blissfully peaceful transition of power following Mutharika’s sudden death, with constitutional guidelines scrupulously adhered to despite the vested interests of many of the country’s ruling class.

… So how exactly can a democratic country like, say, Nigeria ever hope to satisfy the whimsical judgment of Foreign Policy magazine? The Occupy Nigeria movement that demonstrated against corruption and the removal of the country’s fuel subsidy in January was a peaceful mass movement that achieved major gains for working people. It was a thoroughly global protest, with Nigerians in the diaspora taking to the streets of Brussels, London, New York, and Washington, D.C., to demand better governance in Nigeria. Yet these protests are listed on the country’s “postcard” alongside terrorist attacks by Boko Haram as equal evidence of Nigeria’s “hellishness.” For some reason, the postcard neglects to mention the extraordinary spectacle of protesters in Nigerian cities standing guard outside each other’s places of worship — Muslims outside churches, Christians at the doors of mosques — so that each group could pray without fear of further bombings.

Many of the Postcards from Hell, in fact, simply show popular protests taking place, as though dissent and social demonstrations are themselves signs of state failure. What kind of half-baked political theory is this? Maybe protests are bad for business and troublesome, but for whom exactly? And are we ranking the state or the society? Or both at once?

The Postcards from Hell also insist that there are no white people in this year’s story of state failure …

There will never be a Postcard from Hell that bears a picture of an American street. But what if there were? What would go on there?

Perhaps the picture could be of the moment last year when a police officer seized a U.C.-Berkeley college professor by the hair and flung her to the ground.

One thing is certain, Foreign Policy and The Fund for Peace are enabling the lie that military intervention is humanitarian aid, particularly in resource rich Africa. They reinforce the notion that poor people are dangerous people. In doing so they are actively working against development in Africa and against the best interests of African people. They help justify the poisonously destructive picture of aid painted by the Marine Corps commercial.

Added July 5

What we see in the Marine Corps ad is a Marine Air Ground Task Force. In 2010 the US Africa Command began developing MAGTF units for use in Africa.

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

“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 with diplomacy. The message the US is sending is that it feels entitled to take what it wants, wherever it wants, by force. This is the basic message of colonialism.

William Easterly, @bill_easterly, had several relevant tweets today. He sums it up most succinctly:

“Failed State” means “state which somebody is advocating invading.” bit.ly/NoNhiD

And adds:

“Failed State” is conveniently vague for Great Powers that want to intervene in their own interests

1 Term justifies Drug War MexicoColombia and War on Terror IraqAfghanistanYemenPakistanSomalia

He pointed out the flaws in the term “failed state” over two years ago:

Top 5 reasons why “failed state” is a failed concept

1) “State failure” is leading to confused policy making.

For example, it is causing the military to attempt overly ambitious nation-building and development to approach counter-terrorism, under the unproven assumption that “failed states” produce terrorism.

2) “State failure” has failed to produce any useful academic research in economics

3) “State failure” has no coherent definition.

4) The only possible meaningful definition adds nothing new to our understanding of state behavior, and is not really measurable.

5)  “State failure” appeared for political reasons.

You can read more explanation and detail and view diagrams tracking the term at the link. His initial tweet on the subject today still sums it up.

“Failed State” means “state which somebody is advocating invading.”

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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