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Scramble for Africa

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JOHN CHERIAN

The neocolonial scramble for Africa has truly begun with the installation of the National Transitional Council in Libya.

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President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda at a news conference in Kampala on October 16. He said the despatch of U.S. troops to deal with the rebel outfit Lord’s Resistance Army was not meant for combat but rather liaison and support in the area of intelligence.

THE installation of the National Transitional Council (NTC) government in Libya by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) could signal the beginning of an open neocolonial scramble for Africa. Suspicions about such a blueprint were first aroused when President George W. Bush set up the United States-Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2008, months before demitting office. The demand for a permanent American military footprint on the African continent had come from right-wing think tanks that enjoyed great clout in the corridors of power during the eight years of the Bush presidency.

A background paper prepared in 2002 by the influential right-wing think tank Heritage Foundation had called for the creation of a military command for the continent so that “direct military intervention”, using air power and naval forces, could become possible to “protect vital U.S. interests” in Africa. Such interventions, its authors wrote, would not necessitate the deployment of U.S. forces on the ground. Such wars, the paper proposed, should be fought with the help of local allies. The U.S. Defence Department’s African Contingency Operation Training and Assistance Programme is deeply involved in training the armies of many countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Ghana, America’s close allies in the region.

The authors of the paper clearly spelt out what they meant by vital interests: “With its vast natural and mineral resources, Africa remains strategically important to the West, as it has been for hundreds of years, and its geostrategic significance is likely to rise in the 21st century.” According to the National Intelligence Council, “the United States is likely to draw 25 per cent of its oil from West Africa by 2015, surpassing the volume imported from the Persian Gulf”, the Heritage Foundation study reported. The Bush administration’s Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Walter Kansteiner was quick to echo the views expressed by the foundation. He went on record stating that Africa’s oil had “become a national strategic interest”.

Libya is among Africa’s biggest oil producers. China was importing 11 per cent of Libyan oil for its domestic needs before the NATO-instigated civil war in the North African state started seven months ago. It could now find itself locked out of new oil contracts. Top functionaries of the NTC have said that China, Russia and Brazil would be frozen out of contracts.

AP

JOSEPH KONY, THE leader of the LRA. A file photograph.

These countries had criticised the misuse of the United Nations Security Council resolution on Libya to bring about a regime change. China gets around one-third of its oil from Africa. The French newspaper Liberacion recently published documents revealing the NTC leadership’s offer of 35 per cent of Libya’s oil production to France in return for its “total and permanent support” for the new government. Gene Cretz, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, recently blurted out that “oil is the jewel of the crown of Libyan national resources”.

President Barack Obama, who famously claimed that he was leading the war in Libya “from behind”, used precisely the tactics prescribed in the Heritage Foundation report. AFRICOM played an important behind-the-scenes role in planning the U.S./NATO bombing of Libya. U.S. Special Forces teamed up with its counterparts from France and the United Kingdom to arm and organise the ragtag rebel forces into a fighting unit. It was the coordinated air strikes, coupled with an amphibious operation led by the U.S., that finally led to the fall of Tripoli. South African President Jacob Zuma complained bitterly that it was NATO bombing that prevented the African Union (A.U.) from hammering out a negotiated settlement to the civil war in Libya. More than 200 prominent Africans wrote an open letter in August criticising the recourse to “militarised diplomacy to effect regime change in Libya”.

In early October, a few days before the fall of Sirte and the killing of Muammar Qaddafi, Obama ordered the despatch of 100 U.S. Special Forces troops to Uganda. He said the decision to send the troops was taken to help the U.S.’ ally in the region, Yoweri Museveni, defeat the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which was engaged in a guerilla war with the central government in Kampala. Obama told Congress that the troops were deployed in order “to assist African forces in the removal of Joseph Koni [the LRA leader] and the LRA leadership from the battlefield”. Museveni, one of Africa’s long-serving authoritarian rulers, was a one-time friend of Qaddafi. Qaddafi had extended support to the rebel army that brought Museveni to power in 1986. After coming to power, Museveni became one of the trusted allies of the West and was regularly feted at the White House.

At America’s bidding, Uganda has sent peacekeepers to Somalia under the A.U. umbrella to keep the Islamist Al Shabab militia out of the capital, Mogadishu. Two years ago, Ethiopia dispatched its troops to Somalia to drive away the Islamic Courts Union government from Mogadishu after it had managed to unite most of the country. In the face of immense resistance, the Ethiopian troops were withdrawn, but the country was left in chaos again. Al Shabab exploited this and now poses a potent threat to U.S. interests in the region.

In the middle of October, Kenya replicated what Ethiopia did. Encouraged by the U.S., it sent its troops deep into Somalia to fight Al Shabab. The U.S. is providing air support to the Kenyan military. The Kenyan invasion has already led to terror attacks in Kenyan cities. Only a handful of African states have bothered to send peacekeepers to the war-ravaged country, viewing the conflict there as one mainly instigated by the West.

Observers of the African scene are suspicious of the Obama administration’s sudden decision to send Special Forces to Uganda. Obama has also indicated that the U.S. forces will be sent to the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, ostensibly to help the governments there to crush rebel groups. AFRICOM provides billions of dollars worth of equipment to the armies of countries that are friendly to the U.S. The U.S. military is already helping counter-insurgency operations in Mali and Niger, where the marginalised Tuareg ethnic group has raised the banner of revolt. “With Libya secure, an American invasion of Africa is under way,” observed John Pilger in a recent article.

The LRA, which operates along Uganda’s borders with Southern Sudan and the Central African Republic, was never considered a serious threat in the 24 years that it has been active. It is said to have around 500 fighters, many of them child soldiers. Many African commentators suspect that the real goal of the Obama administration is to start preparing the ground for a permanent military base for AFRICOM on the continent. AFRICOM is currently headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, but it has a major military facility in Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, a small state located in the Horn of Africa. In all, 1,800 American troops are permanently based there.

In the island state of Seychelles, the U.S. has secretly deployed MQ-9 Reaper drones. These “hunter-killers” have been deployed extensively over Somalia. African civil society is very much opposed to U.S. military involvement in Africa. No African country has until now openly offered permanent basing facilities, although there were reports in the media that Liberia and Morocco were among the countries that were being short-listed by Washington. The regional grouping, Southern African Development Community (SADC), has refused to give any kind of support or access to AFRICOM.

Military analysts say that from the strategic point of view, land-locked Uganda provides the ideal location for a permanent U.S. military base on the African continent. With Libya already under NATO stewardship, the U.S. can regain control over the military bases it was ousted from following the removal of the pro-Western King Idris. It has been a long-term U.S. goal to occupy the strategic crossroads between the Mediterranean and the Arab world. The death of Qaddafi has made this goal an achievable reality. The next step is to ensure the U.S. military’s stranglehold on Central Africa to control the region’s hydrocarbon and other mineral resources. Uganda’s neighbours, such as Congo and Southern Sudan, are rich in mineral resources, which include diamonds and precious metals such as gold, platinum, lithium and cobalt.

According to oil industry experts, Uganda has huge untapped oil resources. A UPI report in March said: “East Africa is emerging as the next oil boom following a big strike in Uganda’s Lake Albert Basin. Other oil and gas reserves have been found in Tanzania and Mozambique and exploration is under way in Ethiopia and war-torn Somalia.” The region is rich in rare earths, which remain largely unexploited. Currently, China has a monopoly over rare-earth production located within its borders.

The Economist had noted that “several jealous western governments and companies want to stall China’s advance into the Congo basin, with its vast reserves of minerals and timber”. The big economic and diplomatic stride made by China on the African continent has caused a lot of heartburn in Western capitals. China has been focussing on Africa since the 1960s. China started investing heavily there ever since it began to emerge as a big economic power. Its investments in 2010 were estimated at $47 billion. Beijing’s policy of giving liberal “no-strings-attached” loans to African nations has won it a lot of goodwill. But with Chinese labour and capital moving into the continent in a big way, the resentment that has been building up in some countries has come in handy for the West.

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The son of Africa claims a continent’s crown jewels

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On 14 October, President Barack Obama announced he was sending United States special forces troops to Uganda to join the civil war there. In the next few months, U.S. combat troops will be sent to South Sudan, Congo and Central African Republic. They will only “engage” for “self-defense”, says Obama, satirically. With Libya secured, an American invasion of the African continent is under way.

Obama’s decision is described in the press as “highly unusual” and “surprising”, even “weird”. It is none of these things. It is the logic of American foreign policy since 1945. Take Vietnam. The priority was to halt the influence of China, an imperial rival, and “protect” Indonesia, which President Nixon called “the region’s richest hoard of natural resources …the greatest prize”. Vietnam merely got in the way; and the slaughter of more than three million Vietnamese and the devastation and poisoning of their land was the price of America achieving its goal. Like all America’s subsequent invasions, a trail of blood from Latin America to Afghanistan and Iraq, the rationale was usually “self defense” or “humanitarian”, words long emptied of their dictionary meaning.

In Africa, says Obama, the “humanitarian mission” is to assist the government of Uganda defeat the Lord’s resistance Army (LRA), which “has murdered, raped and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women and children in central Africa”. This is an accurate description of the LRA, evoking multiple atrocities administered by the United States, such as the bloodbath in the 1960s following the CIA-arranged murder of Patrice Lumumba, the Congolese independence leader and first legally elected prime minister, and the CIA coup that installed Mobutu Sese Seko, regarded as Africa’s most venal tyrant.

Obama’s other justification also invites satire. This is the “national security of the United States”. The LRA has been doing its nasty work for 24 years, of minimal interest to the United States. Today, it has few than 400 fighters and has never been weaker. However, U.S. “national security” usually means buying a corrupt and thuggish regime that has something Washington wants. Uganda’s “president-for-life” Yoweri Museveni already receives the larger part of $45 million in U.S. military “aid” – including Obama’s favorite drones. This is his bribe to fight a proxy war against America’s latest phantom Islamic enemy, the rag-tag al Shabaab group based in Somalia. The RTA will play a public relations role, distracting western journalists with its perennial horror stories.

However, the main reason the U.S. is invading Africa is no different from that which ignited the Vietnam war. It is China. In the world of self-serving, institutionalized paranoia that justifies what General David Petraeus, the former U.S. commander and now CIA director, implies is a state of perpetual war, China is replacing al-Qaeda as the official American “threat”. When I interviewed Bryan Whitman, an assistant secretary of defense at the Pentagon last year, I asked him to describe the current danger to America. Struggling visibly, he repeated, “Asymmetric threats … asymmetric threats”. These justify the money-laundering state-sponsored arms conglomerates and the biggest military and war budget in history. With Osama bin Laden airbrushed, China takes the mantle.

Africa is China’s success story. Where the Americans bring drones and destabilization, the Chinese bring roads, bridges and dams. What they want is resources, especially fossil fuels. With Africa’s greatest oil reserves, Libya under Muammar Gaddafi was one of China’s most important sources of fuel. When the civil war broke out and NATO backed the “rebels” with a fabricated story about Gaddafi planning “genocide” in Benghazi, China evacuated its 30,000 workers in Libya. The subsequent UN security council resolution that allowed the west’s “humanitarian intervention” was explained succinctly in a proposal to the French government by the “rebel” National Transitional Council, disclosed last month in the newspaper Liberation, in which France was offered 35 per cent of Libya’s gross national oil production “in exchange” (the term used) for “total and permanent” French support for the NTC. Running up the Stars and Stripes in “liberated” Tripoli last month, U.S. ambassador Gene Cretz blurted out: “We know that oil is the jewel in the crown of Libyan natural resources!”

The de facto conquest of Libya by the U.S. and its imperial partners heralds a modern version of the “scramble for Africa” at the end of the 19th century.

Like the “victory” in Iraq, journalists have played a critical role in dividing Libyans into worthy and unworthy victims. A recent Guardian front page carried a photograph of a terrified “pro-Gaddafi” fighter and his wild-eyed captors who, says the caption, “celebrate”. According to General Petraeus, there is now a war “of perception … conducted continuously through the news media”.

For more than a decade the U.S. has tried to establish a command on the continent of Africa, AFRICOM, but has been rebuffed by governments, fearful of the regional tensions this would cause. Libya, and now Uganda, South Sudan and Congo, provide the main chance. As WikiLeaks cables and the U.S. National Strategy for Counter-terrorism reveal, American plans for Africa are part of a global design in which 60,000 special forces, including death squads, already operate in 75 countries, soon to be 120. As Dick Cheney pointed out in his 1990s “defense strategy” plan, America simply wishes to rule the world.

That this is now the gift of Barack Obama, the “Son of Africa”, is supremely ironic. Or is it? As Frantz Fanon explained in Black Skin, White Masks, what matters is not so much the color of your skin as the power you serve and the millions you betray.

John Pilger is an Australian journalist and documentary maker, based in London. He has twice won Britain’s Journalist of the Year Award, and his documentaries have received academy awards in Britain and the U.S.

by John Pilger

(WWW.Johnpilger.com)

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Obama, the king of Africa

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By Pepe Escobar

If United States President Barack Obama really wanted to get rid of the new bogeyman du jour, Uganda’s Joseph Kony – a former altar boy turned mystical Christian prophet/politico, sporting at least 60 wives – he would order US Attorney General Eric “The Fast and the Furious” Holder to concoct a plot subcontracting the hit to a lunatic Iranian linked to a Mexican drug cartel.

Plan B would be to order the United Nations to tell the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to impose a no-fly zone over Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) “rebels”, and then bomb them to oblivion.

Plan C would be to drone the LRA to death with a fleet of MQ-9 Reapers; yet the nearest US drone base is very far away, in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa.

As no unsuspecting Mexicans were available, and the “rebels” in this case are the bad guys, Obama settled for the classic imperial option; he pulled an AfPak and ordered a surge cum boots on the ground, sending 100 US Special Forces to help a corrupt dictator – Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni – crush his local bunch of “rebels”.

Anyone may be excused to see Uganda as Libya upside down – because that’s exactly what it is; the dictator in this case gets a good guy billing – one of “our bastards” – while the “rebels” have a pact with the devil. But is that all there is?

I got an urge to surge
The reality in Uganda is an absolute, murderous mess. As much as the LRA “rebels”, Museveni’s government (helped by Washington) has also perpetrated horrendous massacres against civilians. Kony may even be an amateur compared to Museveni – a sort of dictator for life who has just supervised the displacement and mass murder of at least 20,000 Ugandans on behalf of British corporations. Additionally, Museveni basically stole the Ugandan elections early this year.

Obama’s Uganda surge should be seen as a crucial exchange of favors with Museveni – who has sent thousands of Ugandan troops to the African Union (AU) force that is fighting the hardcore Islamist al-Shabaab in Somalia. So while Uganda fights a proxy war for the US in Somalia, Washington helps the dictator to get rid of the LRA “rebels”. No wonder the Pentagon is quite fond of Uganda; Museveni recently got $45 million in equipment, including four small drones.

The LRA – a ragged bunch of hardcore Christian fundamentalists – is based in northern Uganda but spread out between four countries, including the new South Sudan and Congo, in Central Africa. They carry no heavy weapons. They don’t stand a chance of destabilizing the Ugandan government – much less being a “national security” threat to the US. Bogeyman Kony may be in hiding somewhere along the immense Sudan-Congo border, with no more than 400 warriors left.

Uganda’s proximity to the new country of South Sudan is key in the whole equation. So far, for Northern Sudan the LRA has been a convenient, weaponized firewall against Western puppet Museveni. But most of all, this whole area is prime real estate where the fierce battle between China and the Americans/Europeans plays out, centered on oil and minerals, all part of the Great 21st Century African Resource War.

Behold the mineral kingdom
That brings us to Uganda as a new land of opportunity. Ah, the sheer scale of humanitarian warmongering possibilities. For a semblance of success, the initial steps of Obama’s African surge would have to include a military base with a long runway attached, and a mini-Guantanamo to imprison the “terrorists”. If that sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is; think of the Pentagon’s Africom headquarters soon entertaining the possibility of time-traveling from Stuttgart, Germany, to somewhere in Uganda.

Any student of realpolitik knows the US doesn’t do “humanitarian” interventions per se. Africom’s surge parallels the real name of the game; precious minerals – and mining. Uganda – and nearby eastern Congo – happens to hold fabulous quantities of, among others, diamonds, gold, platinum, copper, cobalt, tin, phosphates, tantalite, magnetite, uranium, iron ore, gypsum, beryllium, bismuth, chromium, lead, lithium, niobium and nickel. Many among these are ultra-precious rare earth – of which China exercises a virtual monopoly.

The mineral rush in Africa is already one of the great resource wars of the 21st century. China is ahead, followed by companies from India, Australia, South Africa and Russia (which, for instance, has set up a fresh gold refinery in Kampala). The West is lagging behind. The name of the game for the US and the Europeans is to pull no punches to undermine China’s myriad commercial deals all across Africa.

Then there’s the inescapable Pipelineistan angle. Uganda may hold “several billion barrels of oil”, according to Heritage Oil’s Paul Atherton, part of a recent, largest-ever on-shore oil discovery in sub-Saharan Africa. That implies the construction of a $1.5 billion, 1,200 kilometer long pipeline to Kampala and the coast of Kenya. Then there’s another pipeline from “liberated” South Sudan. Washington wants to make sure that all this oil will be exclusively available for the US and Europe.

Obama, the King of Africa
The Obama administration insists the 100 special forces will be “advisers” – not combat troops. Think of Vietnam in the early 1960s; it started with “advisers” – and the rest is history. Now, the “advisers” are even expected to fan out from Uganda to South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

And it’s not even the first time this happens. George W Bush tried the same thing in 2008. It ended in unmitigated disaster because of – what else is new – corruption inside the Ugandan army. Kony was tipped off and escaped hours before an attack on his camp.
So on the surface, we have an uplifting narrative of the first black US president deeply disturbed by the “humanitarian crisis” in yet another African nation, Uganda; i n the perfect cover story for Anglo satrapy Uganda will be propped up as an advanced base for Washington to plunge a dagger inside Islamic Africa.

The official Washington spin hammers the fact that the LRA has “murdered, raped, and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women and children”. Now compare it to devastation perpetrated by Washington, over two decades, on Iraq; at least 1.4 million people killed directly and indirectly, millions of refugees, a Sunni-Shi’ite civil war still in effect and the eastern flank of the Arab nation virtually destroyed.

And compare it to the thunderous silence of the Obama White House as racist eastern Libya “rebels” round up, harass, torture and even snuff out sub-Saharan Africans.

Africa has been fighting like forever against multiple strands of the great white genocidal slave master, aided and abetted by multiple strands of the subservient black dictator/kleptocrat – just to be presented in the early 21st century with an American president of direct African descent who has nothing better to offer than special forces, drones, a militarization surge and hypocrisy-laced “humanitarian” intervention.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

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