Category Archives: Africa

No Compassion For Refugees Please, We’re British

“Charity begins at home” at least this is what Britain’s “no refugees here” types have been saying on comments threads on The Guardian and Independent websites. Ironically (or perhaps not), these are the very same people who would not only claim that “people are receiving to much in social security payments”, they would also tell you that the existence of foodbanks proves there is a “food shortage” in this country. Logic? It was never there in the first place.

Many people like to think of The Guardian and The Independent as liberal newspapers with socially liberal readerships. In the case of The Indy, this notion was blown out of the water by the paper’s support for the Tories at the last election and in the case of The Graun, there has been a steady rightward drift in its editorial orientation for years. Sadly, however, the change in direction for these papers has also attracted legions of right-wing racists and keyboard warriors, all of whom have been drawn to the stories of what is now being called the “Refugee Crisis” (formerly the “Migrant Crisis”), a crisis that was entirely created by the actions of the so-called West.

Yet the idea that there is a cause behind the Refugee Crisis is barely mentioned by the tabloid hacks and their pals in Parliament. Instead, in the mind of the knuckledragger, these people are coming here variously for “economic reasons” or the “presence of McDonalds and KFC”, or some such nonsense, and not because they are fleeing the conflicts and tyrannies that the West has created and sustained for decades. Causality, as far as these people are concerned, is a hospital drama on BBC1.

Readers, I have been disgusted by the lack of compassion shown by these keyboard warriors and slackwits but I have been even more disgusted by The Indy’s and The Graun’s tolerance of the vile hatred that’s being openly expressed on its comments threads. If I want to read that kind of shite, I can always go to St*rmfr*nt. Dig?

I always remember reading about this country’s hostile reaction towards the thousands of Jewish refugees who were fleeing the Nazis in the 1930s. This article by Anne Karpf from 2002 – in The Guardian – recalls that those years.

The parallels between past and present are striking. Just as the majority of Jewish refugees were admitted less for compassionate reasons than to meet the shortage of domestic servants, so today’s refugees tend to do the low-paid catering and cleaning jobs spurned by the native British. And just as in spring 1940, when German Jews were interned on the Isle of Man, British newspapers blurred the distinctions between refugee, alien and enemy, so today, according to Alasdair Mackenzie, coordinator of Asylum Aid, “There’s general confusion in many newspapers between an asylum seeker and someone from abroad – everyone gets tarred with the same brush.”

Hostility towards the refugees was stirred up by the virulently anti-immigration rag The Daily (Hate) Mail. Many people internalised its xenophobic and anti-Semitic messages and demanded the government refuse to land any refugees. Déjà Vu? Malheureusement, oui.

The comment below appeared on this Guardian article by the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas. Her name, alone, is enough the get hordes of slavering knuckledraggers thumping their chests and declaring themselves the defenders of “common sense”.

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Britons would probably be far more receptive to the idea of allowing many more refugees into Britain had the country not experience almost two decades of mass immigration in which over five million people had entered Britain.

Here, we have a comment in which the views expressed are little different to those expressed by UKIP’ Nigel Farage (or that Nuttall wanker) on a weekly basis. Although it avoids offensive language and isn’t obvious in its racism, its premise is based on the notion that there has been an “invasion”. Yet, this commenter offers no proof for the numbers they’re using; they are seemingly axiomatic.

On the other hand, this commenter doesn’t disguise his hatred. This is what passes for wit.

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So it turns out now that the guy who recklessly ended up drowning his wife and children had turned down asylum.

Oh.

Sickening.

The government’s response to the crisis has been characteristically Tory: blame “people smugglers” and keep repeating the word “criminals”. It’s as if the refugees themselves have become secondary to the need to punish “those responsible for the trafficking”. In April, in response to refugees drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, Michael ‘Polly’ Portillo, the son of a Spanish republican refugee who fled Franco’s dictatorship, said they should be “sent back where they came from” – and should be “dumped on a Libyan beach”. And you thought he’d been rehabilitated? No way, he’s the same as he ever was.

This nation has been governed by bullies for centuries and people have internalised the bullying to such an extent that they, themselves, have become bullies. This is evident from the lack of compassion shown to refugees. The idea that “charity begins at home” is noble one but one which is now being used dishonestly to bolster the fash’s absurd claim that this country is “full up”.

A few days ago, Cameron appeared on television to give an account of his sluggish response to the crisis. He told the reporter with a straight face that the solution is to “bring peace in Middle East”. But that’s after he’s bombed it back to the Stone Age first.

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Filed under Africa, Eritrea, immigration, Journalism, Libya, Media, Middle East, News/Current Affairs, propaganda, racism, Society & culture, Sudan, Syria, World

Tony Blair, Paul Kagame and Iraq: arrest this man

Tony Blair. What can you say about a man who led the Labour party to a landslide victory in 1997 and who presided over the longest period of economic growth for decades? Well, it was a great victory for sure and as for economic growth… what’s there to say? GDP is no great indicator of a nation’s wealth. And economic growth, like any kind of growth, cannot be sustained forever. Blair and his government continued the neoliberal consensus: the free market is great, the free market is good. All hail the free market.

The other day someone on Twitter, calling themselves “@blairsupporter”,  placed me on a list of “Blair haters”. Charming, I thought. And the reason for this? It’s because I referred to Blair as a “warmonger”, which indeed he is… unless the word itself has been redefined overnight, Blair still qualifies – in my mind, at least – as a war criminal.  He’s most certainly unrepentant. Take his appearance on Newsnight a couple of weeks ago, in which he said that Iraq had not turned out “as he hoped”. Instead of admitting his actions were wrong, he blames the continuing violence on insurgents and external forces.  Yet without his and Bush’s intervention, there would be no sectarian violence.

It’s easy to claim that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant who “killed his own people” when you know nothing of the history of Iraq or Britain’s 40 year on-off occupation of the country.  It’s a handy default position: after all, Saddam Hussein had a big moustache. Surely that’s good enough to have considered him as another Stalin or a Hitler? Remember Gamal Abdul Nasser?

Most people knew nothing about Iraq before 1991 and took their information from the usual news sources. That’s always a big mistake. Britain was in, what was once called Mesopotamia from 1917 till 1958, with a wee break before WWII when it marched back in and kicked out the Nazi-sympathizing Prime Minister Rashid Ali al-Gaylani (who had seized power in a coup in 1941) and connived to reinstall their man Nuri es Said, who dominated Iraqi politics with much repression and violence for the next 17 years.

Britain’s time in what became Iraq is hardly mentioned and is often skipped over to promote the narrative of a uniquely blood-thirsty Saddam Hussein. Nuri was really bad but then so was General Bakr Sidqi (a Kurd), who was largely responsible for the Simele Massacre in 1933, which matches Halabja for the sheer scale of its brutality.

During the pre-independence period… and when I say “independence” I use this word in its loosest possible sense… Britain used Iraqi Arabs and Kurds as target practice. The great racist, Winston Churchill once opined that the use of poison gas against “recalcitrant Arabs” would “spread a lively terror”, which would thus force them to submit to British imperial rule. The military commander in Iraq, General Aylmer Haldane was enthusiastic about the use of gas and other armaments when dealing with Arabs and Kurds. His passion for wanton death and destruction was shared by others.

Other officers seemed to enjoy the work. One who did was Arthur Harris, who would later achieve fame directing the bomber offensive against Germany in the second world war. Known to his friends as Bomber and to his enemies as Butcher, he first practised his trade against Kurdish villages in Iraq. “Where the Arab and Kurd had begun to realise that if they could stand a little noise, they could stand bombing, and still argue,” he reported after one raid in 1924, “they now know what real bombing means, in casualties and damage; they now know that within 45 minutes a full-sized village can be practically wiped out and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured by four or five machines which offer them no real target, no opportunity for glory as warriors, no effective means of escape.” The British employed “police bombing” elsewhere in the empire – in Transjordan; against the Pathan tribesmen on the north-west frontier of India; in the Aden Protectorate (now the southern part of Yemen); and against the Nuer people of the southern Sudan.

Wherever you find brown people, you’ll find Britain and the United States bombing the crap out of them.

But what about the company Blair keeps? Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, has been accused of human rights violations. Blair is his “special adviser”. One wonders what kind of advice you give to a man with no respect for the lives of others? “Carry on, Paul, my old son”!

In 2009, The Office of Tony Blair website (question: how many former Prime Ministers have created their own office? The answer is none. Not even Thatcher did it) said,

Tony Blair hailed President Kagame’s visionary leadership as he saw for himself the remarkable pace of Rwandan progress during a two-day visit to the East African country.

The founder of the Africa Governance Initiative met with the President and senior officials to discuss ways in which Mr Blair and his team could help Rwanda build the capacity to deliver on the priorities of the Rwandan people, before witnessing examples of Rwandan progress in education, clean energy and business.

More often than not, former PMs sit on the backbenches after they’ve lost a general election. Not Blair (Thatcher was packed off to the Lords within a couple of years). He was off gallivanting around the globe. He picked up a nice cushy number as an adviser with JP Morgan and was hand-picked by George W Bush to become the Middle East special envoy. Blair also has his eye on the job of European president. Except no one wants him. But then, no one – except Bush, his neo-con buddies and the swivel-eyed Rapturists wanted Blair to be Middle East’s special envoy either.

According to the Telegraph, Blair has set up an investment unit at his Mayfair  offices... this must be the location of The Office of Tony Blair. Let’s face it, he wasn’t going to base his operations in Greenford or New Cross.

His investment unit, headed by a former senior banker at Barclays, reflects the former prime minister’s growing business empire, worth tens of millions of pounds.

Five members of his staff are registered with the Financial Services Authority and trading screens have been installed at Mr Blair’s offices, in Grosvenor Square in central London.

Mr Blair has established a complex web of companies, designed, according to accountants, to hide just how much money he makes and from where his money comes.

He has denied being “super rich”, but having built up a property portfolio of several homes and two multimillion-pound businesses, it is expected that he will enter the rich-lists for the first time this year with a fortune of somewhere between £35 million and £60 million.

Details of his trading desk have been pieced together by The Sunday Telegraph, which has conducted a series of investigations into Mr Blair’s finances since he left office in 2007.

Greed, thy name is Tony Blair.

So what about Kagame? Well, here’s what Blair said to The Guardian’s Chris McGreal three years ago,

“I’m a believer in and a supporter of Paul Kagame. I don’t ignore all those criticisms, having said that. But I do think you’ve got to recognise that Rwanda is an immensely special case because of the genocide. Secondly, you can’t argue with the fact that Rwanda has gone on a remarkable path of development. Every time I visit Kigali and the surrounding areas you can just see the changes being made in the country.”

McGreal adds,

But a sound economic policy hardly justifies the years of abuses in Congo.

Quite right. Yet Blair is unable to see anything other than the colour of money and his place in history.

Death, thy name is Tony Blair.

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Filed under Africa, Iraq, Middle East, Rwanda, World

Mediating notions of freedom: The Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Radio Free Europe’s headquarters in Prague

Away from the physical wars of violence and destruction, a cultural war has taking been place since the end of World War II. I’m not referring to the phony cultural war of the Right versus Left or Conservative versus Liberal, I’m talking about the bombardment of other countries via the airwaves. The countries that are enduring this cultural bombardment are those in Central Asia, the Balkans and the Middle East.  Some Eastern European countries are included… but not those that have already succumbed to the imperialist message of brotherhood through ‘free trade’.

Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty are, for all intents and purposes, one and the same broadcaster and were, until 1970, directly funded  by the CIA. Their funding now comes directly from Congress but that doesn’t make them any less pernicious than they were previously. In the glory days of the Cold War, RFE/RL would broadcast messages about the wonders of Coca-Cola and other treats to the so-called Iron Curtain countries, but once the Berlin Wall fell, they turned their attention to those countries in Asia, which they believed were in need of ‘freedom’. The truth is altogether less altruistic and I will come to that later.

RFE/RL broadcasts to Iraq and Iran (no surprise). It claims not to beam its signal to Syria but I think, given the current situation there, it most probably does.

RFE began broadcasting in 1950 to Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Romania. RL began in 1951. It is interesting to note that in the same year that RFE was founded, the CIA covertly created the Congress for Cultural Freedom.

For decades in art circles it was either a rumour or a joke, but now it is confirmed as a fact. The Central Intelligence Agency used American modern art – including the works of such artists as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko – as a weapon in the Cold War. In the manner of a Renaissance prince – except that it acted secretly – the CIA fostered and promoted American Abstract Expressionist painting around the world for more than 20 years.

Here’s a clip from Crusade for Freedom. This is the same Orwellian freedom much beloved of our friends in the Liberty League and The Freedom Association,

The Crusade succeeded in convincing many Americans that the idea of freedom that was being mediated to them by domestic broadcasters was the ‘right’ freedom, and that this freedom should be ‘enjoyed’ by everyone.

While not exactly sinister, the Crusade for Freedom was unquestionably deceitful. Over almost twenty years, it repeatedly took advantage of American good will, expanding from a small, obscure program into a monstrous propaganda subterfuge. Crusade organizers instigated parades in small towns, complete with a shining Freedom Bell displayed along the streets. Organizers cast the bell at a foundry near where the Liberty Bell was originally created to enhance its propaganda value. They added other touches, too, appealing to people’s patriotic sentiments. The top of the Freedom Bell, for example, was circled with peace laurels, and the bottom was engraved with a quote from Abraham Lincoln. People were asked to sign Freedom Scrolls and donate Truth Dollars.

“Freedom Scrolls” and “Truth dollars”. What does that sound like to you?

RFE’s website tells us,

In the first years of the Cold War, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty adopted more confrontational editorial policies than other Western broadcasters. The broadcasts produced in accordance with these policies did not promote uprisings and, after 1953, emphasized evolutionary system change.

The original intention of RFE/RL was to inspire insurrection in the East but this failed to happen. Instead, the radios adopted a more softly softly approach through the use of culture.

In what came to be called “surrogate” broadcasting, RFE and RL provided an unbiased, professional substitute for the free media that countries behind the Iron Curtain lacked. Unlike other Western broadcasters, the programs focused on local news not covered in state-controlled domestic media as well as religion, science, sports, Western music and locally banned literature and music.

They claim that they provided “unbiased” news. Such news does not and never did exist.

The “radios” provided news, features and music aimed at communist and non-communist elites as well as the general population. RFE and RL also gave a voice to dissidents and opposition movements that, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, would emerge as leaders of the new post-communist democracies.

Most Americans had no idea that their tax money was being used to support RFE/RL and many still don’t understand the role they played in the production of propaganda during Gulf War II and the occupation of Iraq.

But it’s not going all RFE’s way. Last October, the Voice of America website reported,

U.S.-funded media outlet Radio Liberty says it will end its radio broadcasts and move to digital platforms to comply with a new Russian law prohibiting foreign control of broadcast licenses.

In a Moscow Times article, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) president Steve Korn says the station is adapting to new legal realities and changing technology and distribution systems.

Korn says Radio Liberty’s future lies in digital, Internet and social media, where it hopes to reach “young, urban and educated Russians” who “are at the forefront of change and who will lead Russia in the future.”  He says there was no alternative to compliance with Russian law.

The Voice of America (VOA) looks like a rival outfit but it is part of the same propaganda machine. The VOA includes the African continent in its broadcast orbit as well as the rest of the world. In the 1970s, I can remember once tuning in to the VOA in time for the news. The announcer told listeners that the news was in “Special English”. I always took that phrase to mean “code”. It actually means “American English for foreign speakers”.

English language lessons are part of the propaganda drive: through the teaching of a language one can inculcate in the listener the values of the culture from which that language comes.  In this case, the language is American English, which tells us that the cultural values of the dominant ideology in the United States will be passed on to the listener in a seemingly innocent manner. This is also true of the BBC World Service.

Chomsky and Herman (1989) say,

The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.

In the case of VOA, RFE and RL, they obviously function as American propaganda machines: they are supported by the government through taxation and private (and corporate) donations. While Chomsky and Herman wrote about the function of the media in advanced capitalist societies in which there exists a ‘free press’, it is important to understand how the American radios projected an image of America that was at ease with itself and in which there were no internal conflicts, racism or the surveillance of ‘subversives’. The American people were portrayed as unified and happy. But this was no more than an illusion for the American people and the world’s listeners, whose only knowledge of the US came from one of the radios. In Debordian terms, this is a spectacular image of the US that is being mediated to listeners. But is not the radios themselves that are spectacular, rather the social relations that exist between the listener and the radios are spectacular.

Indeed, Debord said,

The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.

The spectacular freedom articulated by the radios can only be achieved by the ‘opening up’ of markets so that the consumer goods can flow freely. Images of fast-food, high-spec gadgets and designer clothing are used to reinforce this mediated idea of freedom.

Let’s take the example of the Czech Republic, of which Pew Global said,

Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project found broad-based Czech discontent with the country’s economic situation and the way democracy is working.

Adding,

Nonetheless, the data also showed a strong commitment among Czechs to free markets and democratic values. Moreover, Czechs ranked high among their peers in the region in terms of happiness with the transition to free market economics and multiparty politics.

The Czech Republic was one of the first of the former Soviet Union’s satellite states to embrace the free market notion that had been mediated during the Cold War. It is likely that the idea of the “democratic values” of which Pew speaks were projected through the distorted lens of capitalist commodity production onto the Czech people through the radios.  The use of the slippery word “happiness” is instructive here and I would suggest that it has also been subjected to the process of spectacularization.  In other words, happiness comes through the consumption of freely available commodities, but for those without the means to consume such things there is no freedom. This is the ugly flipside of the freedom and democracy concepts that were articulated by the radios. The Shangri-La promised by RFE/RL/VOA exists only for the wealthy, who snapped up the former state industries, and the powerful political figures who capitalized on the vacuum left by the former rulers.

Now the transmitters have turned their signal to those parts of the world that have been hitherto untouched by the invisible hand of the market.

So for those who have yet to be touched by the joys of free market capitalism: your freedom will be mediated to you.

References

Debord, G. (2005) Society of the Spectacle, Detroit: Black and Red.

Herman, E. S. & Chomsky, N. (1994) Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, London: Vintage Books.

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Filed under Africa, Media, Middle East, propaganda, United States, World

French special forces guarding uranium mines in Niger

Uranium mine in Niger. Pic courtesy of The Guardian

Uranium mine in Niger. Pic courtesy of The Guardian

What did I say a couple of weeks ago? That the French intervention in Mali was about more than shooting Islamist militants and indeed it is. When I was listening to the BBC World Service last night, my fears were confirmed when I heard that French special forces were now guarding uranium mines in Niger.

This was on  France 24 last week,

France is to deploy special forces to protect uranium mines belonging to French nuclear energy giant Areva in Niger, according to a report in a news magazine this week.

According to weekly Le Point, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has given the go-ahead for an elite team from France’s armed forces to reinforce local security at the company’s two sites in Niger, a former French colony.

The move comes amid a heightened security threat following a French-led offensive to drive Islamist separatists out of northern Mali, and the deadly hostage crisis at the In Amenas gas facility in Algeria, which militants said was in revenge for the French military intervention.

The US are about to base drones in Niger. Coincidence?

Here’s what the ever-reliable BBC had to say,

Niger has confirmed that French special forces are protecting one of the country’s biggest uranium mines.

President Mahamadou Issoufou told French media that security was being tightened at the Arlit mine after the recent hostage crisis in Algeria.

Despite having large deposits of uranium, gold and other minerals, Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world.

After independence in 1960 its progress was stymied by political instability and a five-year drought, which devastated livestock and crops.

With little primary education, Niger has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. Its health system is basic and disease is widespread.

After a break of a decade, Niger again experienced an insurgency by Tuareg rebels in the north in 2007.

Political instability only benefits France and other countries, who continue to exploit Niger’s mineral wealth and give nothing back to the country. One thing you can say about China is that they at least build infrastructure, Western nations take and give nothing in return. But we also know that Tuareg rebels have been fighting with the Nigerien (as opposed to the Nigerian government in Nigeria) government for decades as they have in Mali. This is a typical scene across the Sahel and it is barely mentioned in Western news reports.

I also heard  that 2,000 Chadian troops had joined French forces in Northern Mali. There is a precedence for this too. France first organized the Chadian army and its military works alongside it,this included the long civil war (1965 to 1979), which began with a peasant uprising. In that conflict, the Chadian government asked France to intervene. Does that sound familiar?

Yesterday on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show (sans le mal Andrew Marr, mais avec la minaudant Sian Williams en lieu), the war criminal Tony Blair gave his support to his ‘heir’, David Cameron.

Blair said: “I think we should acknowledge how difficult these decisions are.

“Sometimes in politics you come across a decision which the choice is very binary, you go this way or that way and whichever way you go the choice is very messy.

“If we engage with this, not just military but over a long period of time, in trying to help these countries, it is going to be very, very hard but I think personally the choice of disengaging is going to be even greater.”

Blair talks about choices being “binary”. Nothing is ever that simple, especially where geopolitics is concerned.

As you’d expect, the mining of uranium is hazardous.  Greenpeace produced a report in 2010 about the levels of atmospheric contamination as well as the dangers posed to those who work in the mines.

Watch this Greenpeace video.

I wonder if the French special forces realize what they’re dealing with? They’re not only guarding these mines but they’re being exposed to the health dangers too. I expect to hear stories of French soldiers being afflicted with mysterious ailments, which can all be traced to their time in Niger. But it’s the people who live near these mines who will continue to live with the consequences of the Areva’s mining operation and the French demand for nuclear energy. They don’t benefit from France’s intervention; they’re merely pawns in another great game.

For more on French military interventions on the African continent, read this.

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No British troops on the ground in the Sahel?

US involvement in Vietnam began with sending military advisers and look what happened.

Since the French military adventure in Mali began, we’ve heard a lot from Dizzy Dave Cameron about how British troops will not be sent to the Sahel to serve in a combat role. So the other day when I heard Britain was to dispatch 330 soldiers to the region in an “advisory” capacity, I was reminded of the US’s involvement in the Vietnam War, which began in 1956 when Eisenhower sent “military advisers” there to “train” the Vietnamese forces. In actual fact, advisers and observers had been sent there in 1950 by Truman to support the French efforts but in small numbers.

In 1954, the Americans and the French installed the puppet president, Ngô Đình Diệm in Saigon (he won a rigged election). He had impeccable anti-Communist credentials and was a Roman Catholic. An ideal choice for a country with a large Buddhist population. Opposition grew to  Diệm’s rule and by 1957, there was a full-scale insurgency. Diệm responded by torturing and killing those whom he believed were Communists. Such was his popularity, that he faced two assassination attempts. He was finally killed in 1963 in a CIA-supported coup and was replaced by Dương Văn Minh.

When Kennedy became US president in 1961, he sent more “military advisers” to Vietnam to support the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). My father was part of a contingent sent to Saigon in 1963. When Kennedy was assassinated in the same year, Johnson sent even more troops to Vietnam and by 1965, he’d escalated the war. You know what happened next.

The sending of “military advisers” to another country to counter “insurgents” is never a good sign. The Cat suspects that British special forces have also been sent to Mali and neighbouring Niger. Today, Cameron has flown to Algeria to have talks with his opposite number, Abdelmalek Sellal. No prizes for guessing what they’ll be talking about.

The Globe and Mail reports that Canadian special forces are already in Mali to “protect the country’s diplomats”.

The US has negotiated a deal with the Nigerien government to establish a base for its unmanned drones.

The head of the U.S. Africa Command, General Carter Ham, visited Niger last month. The poor, landlocked West Africa state has said it wants to have closer security cooperation with Washington.

Carter Ham… you’ve got to love that name. AFRICOM was established in 2006.

The new scramble for Africa is under way and ordinary people will get caught in the middle while the US, France, Britain, Canada and the rest of them slug it out with China and India (yes, India) for the continent’s resources.

Anyone for yellow cake uranium?

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Filed under 20th century, Africa, Algeria, History, History & Memory, Mali, The Maghreb, World

Mali, Mauritania and slavery

Biram Dah Abeid. Picture courtesy of  babacarbaye.unblog.fr

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned about the current conflict in Mali (and neighbouring Mauritania) is slavery. For centuries Tauregs have kept slaves and I remember reading about this many years ago.

I found this article on the International Business Times website.

The practice of slavery long has been a cultural norm in many Malian communities. As in neighboring Mauritania, slaves and slave owners are often described in terms of “black” and “white,” since slave descendants tend to have black African roots and their masters are typically of lighter-skinned Berber ancestry. But in fact, members of both groups have varying skin tones, and ethnicities are sometimes mixed due to masters raping female slaves.

According to Temedt, a Mali-based advocacy program, about 200,000 people are currently enslaved in the country and about 600,000 more are slave descendants under some form of control even though they live separately from their masters. Temedt works with Anti-Slavery International, a London-based human rights organization, to help free victims of slavery and then assist them in the transition to independence.

This article by Mark Tran in The Guardian (dated 23/10/12) says,

“The slave population is already defenceless; it will become even more so as the conflict intensifies. We are like the straw that will be trampled underfoot when elephants fight,” said Ibrahim Ag Idbaltanat, an activist who received the Anti-Slavery International award in London last Wednesday.

Slavery was formally abolished in Mali in the 1960s, after the country gained independence from France. However, although slavery is not allowed under the constitution, there is no anti-slavery law and descent-based slavery through the maternal bloodline still exists in northern regions.

People descended from slaves remain the “property” of their “masters”, either living with them and serving them directly, or living separately but remaining under their control.

While slavery was abolished in the 1960s, the practice continues particularly in Mauritania where it is officially illegal.

This is from Anti-Slavery International.

Whilst there has been no definitive research on the extent of slavery in the country, SOS Esclaves estimate that approximately 18 per cent of Mauritania’s population (over half a million people) live in slavery today.

Slavery has existed in Mauritania for hundreds of years and is deeply rooted within society across the country. The Haratine are the group most affected by slavery practices and are traditionally owned by Bidane, or white moors, the minority ruling elite of Arab-Berber descent in Mauritania. Historically the white moors raided and enslaved people from the indigenous black population and today, all cases of slavery in Mauritania involve people whose ancestors were enslaved before them.

Slavery status is an inherited status. This age-old distinction underpins the very nature of slavery in Mauritania whereby individuals are assigned to a ‘slave caste’ which is ascribed at birth. Those in slavery are devoid of all their fundamental human rights, are owned and controlled by their masters, and are treated like their property. They are forced to work for their masters throughout their lives and are never paid for their work. They do what their masters tell them to do or they are threatened and abused.

A new law criminalising slavery was passed by the Mauritanian Parliament in 2007 but it is not clear how many people have been prosecuted for keeping slaves if, indeed, anyone has been prosecuted at all. It seems that slavery is still taking place in Mauritania in spite of the law.

In 2011,Biram Dah Abeid, a prominent anti-slavery activist, was arrested on trumped up charges. The Guardian reports,

Abeid originally went to a police station with two girls, aged nine and 13, who had been forced to work as servants for the family of the local police commissioner, according to the press release published by the NGOs. An argument took place, which allegedly ended with Abeid being injured. The “mistress” of the girls was charged but released on bail.

A 2007 law made slavery illegal in Mauritania. “But in fact no one has ever been sentenced. Charges are dropped because the courts are under constant pressure from traditional, religious and tribal forces, all of which tolerate this practice,” said Fatima Mbaye, head of the Mauritanian Human Rights League.

Abeid was eventually released on bail last September. The charges, as far as I know, have not been dropped. However he was granted freedom of movement and visited Europe to raise awareness of the issue of the continued practice of slavery in Mauritania.

According to this blog, Abeid narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott on 5 January.  Other anti-slavery activists have also been harassed.

While Cameron, Hollande and other Western leaders talk about “Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb” and “Jihadists”, they deliberately elide the region’s other problems. The situation is not as clear cut as “good guys versus evil terrorists”. Yet our media continues to ply us with this grog.

Slavery is still alive in the Sahel and thousands of French troops in the region will do nothing to end it.

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Nina Wallet Intalou: the strongwoman of the MNLA

Western leaders and their media lackeys have been at pains to point out that the French military presence in Mali is aimed to destroy Islamist militants in that country and the Maghreb. Many of us understand that the words “Islamists” and “Jihadis” are dog whistle words that are intended to strike fear and, indeed, terror into the minds of those who hear them. In another time, the word “German” would have been used in much the same way. In fact, in  England (and not the rest of the UK), “German” is similarly deployed by Europhobes to convince people that leaving the EU is in their best interests – the spectre of a powerful Germany still exercises the minds of these people who still pine for the long-dead British Empire.

If Islamism is the driving force behind the rebellion in the Azawad region of Mali, then it isn’t doing a particularly good job. Under Islamism, women have no say in political discourse. They are kept silent.  Yet in the Taureg MNLA, there is one woman to whom men will listen. She is Nina Wallet Intalou and she is the voice of her people’s struggle for liberation.

I found this article on a site called WorldCrunch. Here’s an excerpt,

A member of the Executive Bureau of the NMLA (most of whose members live in exile here in Nouakchott), Nina Wallet Intalou, 49, is a key figure of the movement. She is also the only woman of the group. Wrapped in a shiny black malafa, the traditional Sahara veiling dress, and smoking a cigarette, she smiles, trying to conceal her concern about the possibility of a reverse: “AQIM is occupying our land,” she said. “Even men are not allowed to smoke any more. They are fighting our culture and our identity. Mali has never done anything against them. They want to erase us, with the complicity of Algerian authorities.”

Her father was a top nurse in the military from the Idnane tribe. Raised between Kidal, Gao and Mopti, the activist moved to Ivory Coast in 1984, aiming to raise awareness about the Tuareg cause among her African brothers. There, she married a rich businessman, with whom she had three children, and resumed her studies. After graduating in Public Law, she set up a construction business at the age of 26, leading 250 employees and holding the monopoly on the cleaning of phone booths in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast capital.

After divorcing from her husband, she returned to northern Mali. She was elected Mayor of Kidal in 1997, but could never exert power. “Islamists were starting to settle in the region, and they didn’t want a woman to rule a city,” she said. “At the time, most of them were from Pakistan and were beginning to create the katiba combat units. Algerians only came in 2003.”  As a consolation prize, Alpha Oumar Kondaré, then Mali President, offered her a position of local councilor.

My bold. Let us not forget how the 1992 Algerian elections were cancelled when Islamist parties performed well in the first two rounds,and the military forced the president, Chadli Bendjedid, to resign and replaced him with a “High Council of State” (a junta in all but name). The civil war that followed was bitter and brutal.

The above article was originally published in Le Monde and can be read here (in French).

The weak Malian government is using the threat of Islamism as a cover for its wider aims of smashing the MNLA, who are opposed to Islamism. Indeed, according to Intalou, the Malian government largely ignored the Islamists. So what changed?

This video of an interview with Intalou came to me from Lissnup on Twitter.

Like many of her compatriots, Intalou is currently in exile in Mauritania.

If Islamism is gaining traction in the Maghreb, then it would be important to ask why that is the case.  But as we know, the word “causality” has always absent from the warmongers’ discourse.

Elsewhere, Front de Gauche leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon points out that Hollande’s decision to put French troops on Malian soil was done without consulting parliament or the Prime Minister.

Enfin, il apparaît que la décision d’intervention a été prise par le seul président Hollande, non seulement sans consultation préalable du Parlement, mais même sans que le gouvernement de Jean-Marc Ayrault en ait été officiellement saisi.

That sounds so familiar.

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Mali: we’ve seen this movie before (reprise)

Map of Mali showing the Azawad region

Already the Mali adventure looks like the opener for something nasty. Today, the Independent reports that “alleged Islamists” (described as “Jihadists” by the BBC’s Frank Gardner) have taken 41 people, all of them foreign workers, hostage at a remote gas plant on the Algerian-Libyan border. 2 people have been killed, one of them a Briton, the other a Frenchman.

This caught my eye,

Reports suggested that the raiders spoke Arabic with “strong Libyan  accents”. A group called the Katibat Moulathamine, or “Masked Brigade”, told Mauritanian radio the attack was a “punishment” for Algeria’s decision to permit French warplanes to use its airspace to attack Malian rebels.

In neighbouring Mauritania there have been ongoing protests, none of them have been reported in Western mainstream media, while Syria, Egypt and Tunisia receive more than ample coverage. Mauritania has seen a massive influx of refugees from Mali.

In the wake of the so-called “Arab Spring” similar things were predicted for “sub-Saharan” (a term I absolutely detest) Africa. From al-Arabiya,

There was eventually no “African Spring”. But Sub-Saharan Africa is not impervious to change. Sporadic protest movements there still could turn into clamoring for radical overhaul of current systems, if living conditions do not improve. Recent events have also shown that the Sahara is not an impenetrable wall. It could not prevent the destabilization of Mali after Tuareg fighters flocked back home following the collapse of the Gadhafi regime.

But this article should be approached with caution, because it was written by Oussama Romdhani, a former Tunisian Communications Minister and “Fulbright scholar”.

It was reported in most of the mainstream media that French troops would engage in direct combat with the insurgents.

Last April, The Christian Science Monitor reported,

This year, Mali‘s restive Tuareg minority has erupted into rebellion after four years of relative quiet, the army has mutinied and seized control of the capital city of Bamako, and today Tuareg separatists declared an independent republic in the country’s vast north.

And asked,

Is this all NATO‘s fault?

Not exactly. But the law of unintended consequences is (as usual) rearing its head. In this case, the successful popular uprising against Muammar Qaddafi‘s regime inLibya, which was substantially aided by the air power of NATO members, has sent Mali tumbling back into chaos, something that neither France nor the US (two of the major backers of the war to oust Qaddafi) are happy about. Far from it.

They call it blowback.

I found this interesting article from The Guardian. It’s dated 28 December, 2010. It poses the question, “Mali: whose land is it anyway”?

Mali is one of the countries most affected by the scramble for land, and Ségou, the country’s rice basket, is at the eye of the storm, with buyers from Senegal, South Africa, China, as well as domestic companies snapping up leases on thousands of hectares. This is land already intensively used in a country with one of the highest population growth rates in the world and where 80% of the people depend on farming for their livelihood.

People are being forced off their land by foreign investors. If this doesn’t sound like a new scramble for Africa, I don’t know what does.

French troops were apparently invited into Mali by that country’s government. But we need to remember that France still pulls many strings in its former colonies. To view this as a war against Islamist insurgents is a massive oversimplification of a complicated situation. It also ignores the ongoing global food crisis, which was partly responsible, along with neoliberalism, for the so-called “Arab Spring”.

The Tuareg people, who inhabit  Northern Mali have been neglected by the government and it is this region that has been singled out for French bombardment. Coincidence?

The pale-skinned Tuaregs, who inhabit northern Mali, have long complained of neglect and disrimination by the government dominated by southerns in far-off Bamako.

In February, Mr Kader says attacks increased against Tuareg in Bamako and the nearby garrison town of Kati.

“People started attacking anything Tuareg: They burnt houses, cars and attacked anyone with white skin – even Arabs,” he says.

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad or MNLA is made up of Taureg, many of whom fought for the Libyan Army during the 2011 Civil War. It is they who are being linked to al-Qaeda by the Malian government. The MNLA declared independence from the rest of Mali.  That gets left out of the current narrative in order to advance the spurious argument that this is an “Islamist insurgency”. Al-Qaeda is often used as a handy catch-all term for any Arab or Muslim who demands rights or autonomy – especially if their demands don’t intersect with the free market dogma of the neoliberal West. There probably once was an al-Qaeda, but these days it sounds more like a brand name that almost anyone can use.

Oil, gold and uranium. There’s a lot of it in the region, as Globalresearch.ca points out (I urge you to read the article),

Whatever is reported by the mainstream media, the goal of this new war is no other than stripping yet another country of its natural resources by securing the access of international corporations to do it.  What is being done now in Mali through bombs and bullets is being done to Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain by means of debt enslavement.

Finally, I found this rather hilarious blog by Paul Cotterill on Liberal Conspiracy. It’s classic left-baiting stuff.

But if the anti-war left is going to get serious about anti-imperialism/promoting the long-term advisability of stopping these continued interventions – we can be sure enough there’ll be another one along in the non-too-distant future – it had better start by getting serious about its analysis.

I bet he believes in “liberal intervention”.

POSTSCRIPT

I found this interesting article on Huffington Post, dated 27/9/11.

In the mid 1990s Gaddafi moved to quell the very Tuareg insurgencies he had once promised to support. A decade later he awarded Libyan citizenship to diehard Tuareg rebels who rejected the negotiated peace settlement in Niger and enlisted many of them in the Libyan army. It is among the Tuareg, according to Frederic Deycard and Yvan Guichaoua, that Gaddafi is likely to have secured troops to defend his crumbling regime.

Deycard and Guichaoua estimate that pro-Gaddafi elements recruited roughly 1,500 Tuaregs from Mali and Niger, most of who were already resident in Libya, over the course of the six-month conflict. In short they comprise a tiny fraction of the Libyan armed forces. To put this number in perspective, at the beginning of the conflict Gaddafi’s army was estimated to be 76,000 strong. Defection and death have greatly reduced this number, but attrition has also been high among foreign combatants, both African and non-African.

 

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Mali: we’ve seen this movie before

French Mirage fighter jet in Mali

It all began with the familiar rhetoric, “We’re going after Islamist terrorists” and with those magic words, the UK swung behind its neighbour, France,  in support of another desperate, but nakedly brazen, military adventure in Africa. The use of Islamists and associated “terror” groups to justify mass killing on an industrial scale is, by now, a familiar refrain. Indeed, the UN Security Council, on which France has a permanent seat, rubber-stamped the mission. François Hollande, the so-called Socialist Président de la République,  has revealed himself to be quite the little warmonger.

France enjoys wreaking havoc in Africa. It was quick to swing into action in the Central African Republic when the ostensible tyrant, Jean Bedel Bokassa, declared himself Emperor of his newly created “empire” (he was copying Napoleon I). France even has a military presence in Chad, a country that has a lot of desert and little else. It just happens to share a border with Libya.

Even though it ostensibly gave up its empire in West and Central Africa, France seems to spend rather too much time on the continent. It has a military presence in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and possibly Niger too. Niger being the alleged home of the infamous yellow cake uranium hoax.

It’s obvious why France is in Mali and it has nothing at all to do with “Islamist terrorists”, it’s more to do with the stuff that lies beneath the ground; the mineral wealth. Well, why else are European countries still exercising considerable influence on a continent that has been plundered and looted; its inhabitants forced to endure autocratic and capricious puppet rulers for the last 50 odd years? It ain’t humanitarianism, baby! Altruism is the last thing on their minds.

Britain wants a slice of the action too. We can see echoes in the Second Opium War, which was a joint military enterprise between the classical liberal British Empire and the newly liberal  Second French Empire, ruled by the vain and impulsive Napoleon III. Markets: they must be opened up – by force, if necessary. Yes, Britain is happy to provide military “assistance” because it wants a share of those riches – even though it may overstretch itself. Afghanistan?

Already, French air strikes have killed hundreds of civilians. There’s nowhere to hide in the desert and one group of people looks much the same as any other to the French pilots. If they wear turbans, gun them down where they stand. Better still, bomb the lot of them and save the bullets. The trouble is, a lot of people wear turbans in that part of the world.

This is another scramble for Africa. Desperate to relive the glories of 19th century imperial power and all the wealth it provided for the few, France is having another bash at the old imperialism game. A spokeswoman for the Stop the War movement, quoted in today’s Morning Star said,

The civil war in Mali is a direct consequence of the disastrous intervention in Libya and shows that the war on terror is a source of instability in Africa as in Central Asia and the Middle East.

Libya. Remember that place? It’s a total mess. And one mess leads inexorably to another mess. And messes can be used to the advantage of countries with massive military machines. They usually call this peace-keeping or a humanitarian intervention. Like the various aid appeals for famine-hit Ethiopia, the claim of humanitarianism rings rather hollow when weighed against the evident dash for the continent’s resources, backed up by the latest in killing technology.

The Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor warns of mission creep,

David Cameron has insisted that no British combat troops from the UK will be involved in operations in Mali. Britain’s top military commanders have no wish to join French combat troops there — a view they were expected to make quite clear at a meeting on Tuesday of the National Security Council, chaired by Cameron.

However, that may not be the end of it. Britain and the US could yet provide surveillance and intelligence-gathering aircraft or pilotless drones. The European Union is planning to deploy a military training mission consisting of several hundred troops, including British soldiers, to Mali in the next few weeks.

This could be the pattern of future European military interventions, as our blog has suggested before. Britain, France, the US, all know air strikes from high-flying planes or drones is not the most effective way, militarily (or politically or ethically, given the likelihood of civilian casualties) to fight mobile forces speeding around on pickup trucks.

So the emphasis is on training local forces, in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, and now Mali. They could be backed up by special forces, rather less visible than warplanes.

And mercenaries too, I shouldn’t wonder. After all, European and US mercenaries have been hanging around African countries for decades now. In 2002, the war criminal Blair chillingly told us how he would have liked to see mercenaries operate in a peace-keeping role in West Africa. Mercenaries only know how to do one thing: kill for money. Asking a mercenary to be a peacekeeper is a little like asking a butcher to perform keyhole surgery on a seriously ill patient. Why would you do it?

Finally, I need to mention arch-Blairite, Hatchet-job Hodges, who penned this blog, designed to goad and mock the left, whom he declares have “been silent” on the issue of military intervention in Mali.  As a “Blairite cuckoo in the Miliband nest” (the Torygraph’s words, not mine), he no doubt supports the Orwellian notion of “liberal intervention” and turns a blind eye to the war crimes associated with it. It seems to me he has no room to talk. He offers us this myopic vision from his crystal ball,

Francois Hollande is unlikely to emerge from his Mali adventure as the new De Gaulle. But he may well become the new Left-wing poster boy for progressive interventionism. It would be enough.

What a nasty piece of work. Just like his war criminal idol in fact. But in his haste to have a dirty little dig, he failed to spot this blog on the Stop the War Coalition website. Hodges talks shit, just like his war criminal idol.

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Libya. Confused? So am I

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. Still free.

They say that the first casualty of war is the truth. The war in Libya is no exception. Since the bombing began in February, we have been treated to all sorts of rumour, speculation and innuendo. First, we were told that the no-fly zone imposed by NATO was to prevent Gaddafi from launching air strikes against his own people. We heard the same thing in the 1990’s in the days of the Iraq no-fly zone. Civilians were killed and tanks, which can’t fly, were destroyed. Civilians have been killed in this war too. But as long as we get our hands on the oil, who cares? You can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. Right?

Then, some members of the SAS or SBS or whoever they were, were captured by the rebels after we had been told that there were no “British boots on the ground”. Later we were told by the MOD that there were British ‘mentors’ and ‘advisors’ in Libya. In pre-1965 Vietnam, the US stuffed the country with ‘advisors’. But they weren’t advisors at all; they were actively involved in combat operations and also helped to facilitate the coup that ousted Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963.

Then, about a month ago, were informed that top rebel general, Abdel Fatah Younis, had been assassinated. The finger of blame was immediately pointed in the direction of Daddy Gaddafi. It turned out that the general had been killed by gunmen on his ‘own side’ and that the National Transitional Council and all the rebel forces are far from united in their efforts to topple Gaddafi.

In the last couple of days, Tripoli was reported to be moments away from collapse and that rebel forces had entered the Libyan capital. Gaddafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam and Mohammed had apparently been captured with the former being in the custody of the International Criminal Court. Last night, Saif al-Islam appeared on television to urge his supporters to fight on. The two South African air force planes on the tarmac of Tripoli airport weren’t there to fly Daddy Gaddafi to Zimbabwe or Angola as the commentators had speculated. In fact, no one really knew why they were there but the ‘experts’ still offered an ill-informed expert opinion nonetheless. Daddy Gaddafi remains in charge and doesn’t look as though he’s going anywhere in a hurry. Some of the rebels who apparently entered Tripoli withdrew overnight. Why? Well, not even Chatham House knows the answer to that question.

The war is over? It doesn’t look like it.

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