Al Jazeera reports: Secret documents obtained by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit expose a deep disdain by South Africa’s spies for their Israeli counterparts, with intelligence assessments accusing Israel of conducting “cynical” polices in Africa that include “fuelling insurrection,” “appropriating diamonds” and even sabotaging Egypt’s water supply.
Political wariness on the part of the South Africans is hardly surprising given Israel’s extensive military and security cooperation with the apartheid regime ousted in 1994. The current South African government is led by the African National Congress, which aligned itself with the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
A secret analysis from South African intelligence dismisses a tour of African countries by the Israeli Foreign Minister in 2009 as “an exercise in cynicism.” [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: While wars in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine make headlines in the West, around 30 other conflicts receive little press coverage, and the resulting lack of pressure for change could have serious implications for millions of people, experts say.
Civil wars in Sudan’s western Darfur region and its southern states have almost disappeared from the media despite affecting huge numbers and displacing 2.4 million people in Darfur alone.
Neighbouring South Sudan is also an overlooked crisis that urgently needs attention, said Jean-Marie Guehenno, president of Brussels-based think tank International Crisis Group, which is currently tracking more than 30 conflicts globally.
South Sudan ranked alongside Afghanistan and Syria last year as the three least peaceful countries in the world in an annual index compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace.
“The horrific violence you still see in South Sudan is because there is no pressure from public opinion,” Guehenno told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The civil war there is entering its second year, bringing the world’s newest country to the brink of bankruptcy and famine as violence has displaced at least 1.9 million of the nation’s 11 million people and killed more than 10,000. [Continue reading…]
Joshua Hammer writes: Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, the head of the Kenema Government Hospital’s Ebola ward, didn’t want his head nurse moved into the main isolation unit. Called Ward A, it consisted of eight small rooms lining a dingy corridor of exposed wiring, peeling paint, and grimy cement floors. It was narrow, stiflingly hot, and crowded with as many as 30 patients. Nurses squeezed between beds, injecting antibiotics, emptying buckets of diarrhea, hosing down vomit with chlorine. Some of the sick were delirious; others catatonic, with a stony-eyed stare that usually signaled that death was imminent. All of them were hooked up to intravenous fluid bags; in a state of disorientation, some would rip the needles out of their arms, spraying their blood in all directions.
So Khan had bent the rules and moved the Ebola-stricken nurse to a private room in the observation wing, which was normally set aside for those awaiting their diagnostic test results. It was more comfortable and dignified — befitting the nurse’s status, Khan thought, as the most beloved figure at the hospital. Khan and Mbalu Fonnie had been each other’s family for much of the past decade. He called her “mom.” She thought of him as her son, and she took maternal pride in his accomplishments. A round-faced man who had been born poor in a village near Freetown, Khan had become a hero in Kenema, a backwater town of 130,000. As the head of the Lassa fever ward, he had treated more cases of hemorrhagic fever than anyone else in the world, helping thousands of patients recover their health. He attended conferences from New Orleans to Nigeria, published studies in major medical journals, and was soon headed to Harvard on sabbatical to work at the cutting edge of tropical disease research — mapping the virus genome. But now Khan was facing the greatest challenge of his life. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: The two “ghost ships” discovered sailing towards the Italian coast last week with hundreds of migrants – but no crew – on board are just the latest symptom of what experts consider to be the world’s largest wave of mass-migration since the end of the second world war.
Wars in Syria, Libya and Iraq, severe repression in Eritrea, and spiralling instability across much of the Arab world have all contributed to the displacement of around 16.7 million refugees worldwide.
A further 33.3 million people are “internally displaced” within their own war-torn countries, forcing many of those originally from the Middle East to cross the lesser evil of the Mediterranean in increasingly dangerous ways, all in the distant hope of a better life in Europe.
“These numbers are unprecedented,” said Leonard Doyle, spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration. “In terms of refugees and migrants, nothing has been seen like this since world war two, and even then [the flow of migration] was in the opposite direction.”
European politicians believe they can discourage migrants from crossing the Mediterranean simply by reducing rescue operations. But refugees say that the scale of unrest in the Middle East, including in the countries in which they initially sought sanctuary, leaves them with no option but to take their chances at sea. [Continue reading…]
Ishaan Tharoor writes: Around midnight on Sept. 18, 1961, a plane carrying U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold crashed nine miles from its intended destination, the town of Ndola in Northern Rhodesia, now the independent republic of Zambia. The 56-year-old Swede and 15 other people aboard the aircraft perished.
According to one account, Hammarskjold’s body was found in the forest near the wreckage. He was “lying on his back, propped up against an ant hill, immaculately dressed as always, in neatly pressed trousers and a white shirt with cuff links.” Hammarskjold is the only U.N. secretary general to have died while in office.
At the time, both the governments of Sweden and Northern Rhodesia claimed the incident was the result of pilot error. There was little evidence to be gleaned from the flight’s sole survivor, an American sergeant who, before succumbing to his injuries, had said the plane experienced a series of explosions. A U.N. investigation the following year yielded no clear conclusion. It downplayed testimony from local villagers that a smaller, second aircraft may have shot down the plane.
Not surprisingly, the circumstances of Hammarskjold’s death have always carried a suspicion of foul play. The Swedish diplomat was to meet with representatives from a breakaway state in the Congo — a mineral-rich, fledgling nation that was coveted still by outside powers. There were many parties, even some in the United States, who perhaps did not want to see Hammarskjold’s peace mission bear fruit.
On Monday, the U.N. General Assembly unanimously approved a motion asking current Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to appoint an independent panel of experts to investigate new evidence that has come to light regarding the 1961 plane crash. [Continue reading…]
Anna Badkhen writes: An hour before sunup the Bani River uncoils through the dark Sahel in bright silver curves, a reflection of a day not yet dawned, hardships not yet known, hopes not yet broken. Onto such a magical surface the Bozo fishermen of Sindaga shove off with bamboo poles and float downstream in redwood pirogues, one silent man per boat. The fishermen work standing up: solitary Paleolithic silhouettes keeping perfect balance against the river’s luminescence, each man one with his boat like some pelagic centaur, performing one of mankind’s oldest rites. They cast their diaphanous seines into the night. Handmade sinkers kiss the surface, pucker it lightly, drag the nets under.
By the time daybreak trims burgundy the sparse savannah, the fishermen row their day’s first catch back to the village. In squat banco houses that crowd the river, the men take breakfast of rice and fish sauce. They patch up the nets while their wives and mothers sort the morning haul into giant wicker baskets and lug it to the nearest market town. After midday prayer, the men cast off again.
Such has been their fishing schedule for centuries, aligned with the orderly procession across the West African sky of 26 sequential constellations. Each new star signifies the advent of a windy season, of weeks of life-giving drizzle or days of downpour, of merciless heat or relentless malarial mosquitoes dancing in humid nights. Each star announces the arrival of the blue-tinged Nile perch, of the short-striped daggers of clown killi, of the lunar disks of the Niger stingray, of the toothless garras that like to nibble the bare ankles of laundresses, and that, in the West, are used for pedicures in foot spas.
Or so it used to be. Mali has been growing drier and hotter since the 1960s. For the past three decades, the weather has been chaotic, out of whack with the stars. The rainy season has been starting early or late or not arriving at all. Droughts throttle the land and wring dry the river. Flash floods wash away harvests and entire homesteads hand-slapped of rice straw and clay. Acres of deforested riverbank dry out and blow away, or collapse into the water. The fish run off schedule. “The river is becoming broken,” said Lasina Kayantau, a Sindaga elder. [Continue reading…]
Seumas Milne writes: Four months into the internationally declared Ebola emergency that has devastated west Africa, Cuba leads the world in direct medical support to fight the epidemic. The US and Britain have sent thousands of troops and, along with other countries, promised aid – most of which has yet to materialise. But, as the World Health Organisation has insisted, what’s most urgently needed are health workers. The Caribbean island, with a population of just 11m and official per capita income of $6,000 (£3,824), answered that call before it was made. It was first on the Ebola frontline and has sent the largest contingent of doctors and nurses – 256 are already in the field, with another 200 volunteers on their way.
While western media interest has faded with the receding threat of global infection, hundreds of British health service workers have volunteered to join them. The first 30 arrived in Sierra Leone last week, while troops have been building clinics. But the Cuban doctors have been on the ground in force since October and are there for the long haul.
The need could not be greater. More than 6,000 people have already died. So shaming has the Cuban operation been that British and US politicians have felt obliged to offer congratulations. John Kerry described the contribution of the state the US has been trying to overthrow for half a century “impressive”. The first Cuban doctor to contract Ebola has been treated by British medics, and US officials promised they would “collaborate” with Cuba to fight Ebola.
But it’s not the first time that Cuba has provided the lion’s share of medical relief following a humanitarian disaster. Four years ago, after the devastating earthquake in impoverished Haiti, Cuba sent the largest medical contingent and cared for 40% of the victims. In the aftermath of the Kashmir earthquake of 2005, Cuba sent 2,400 medical workers to Pakistan and treated more than 70% of those affected; they also left behind 32 field hospitals and donated a thousand medical scholarships. [Continue reading…]
Sometimes, to see the big picture you need to focus on the smallest part of it, as Nick Turse does in the latest of his dispatches on the U.S. military in Africa. He takes a look at that military in Chad. Yep, I said “in Chad.” At least 99% of Americans are undoubtedly unfamiliar with that landlocked African country and most of the remaining 1% have no idea that the U.S. military is already deeply involved in that (if you don’t happen to be Chadian) obscure land.
It’s easy enough to link the word “imperial” to the United States in a lazy fashion. But if imperial has any meaning in the post-colonial twenty-first century, it certainly means that the (super)power in question has an active interest in attempting to control significant swathes of the planet. In fact, there has never been a power, no matter how “great,” which has, in such a militarized way, tried to put its stamp of control on so much of Planet Earth.
It has, for instance, garrisoned the Greater Middle East from the Chinese border in Central Asia to the Balkans in an unprecedented fashion. For decades, it considered the Pacific Ocean an “American lake” and garrisoned islands across it in a similarly unprecedented fashion. Between 1945 and 1973, it fought two wars in Asia, at the cost of millions of lives, leading to a still-unresolved stalemate in Korea and a defeat in Vietnam; from 1980 to the present, it has fought a barely interrupted war in Afghanistan and since 1990, three wars in Iraq. It has also conducted air strikes in countries ranging from Pakistan and Yemen to Syria and Somalia, intervened disastrously in Lebanon and Libya, among other places, and come to the edge of war (while launching a “cyberwar”) in Iran. And that doesn’t even exhaust the list of conflicts.
In recent months, the U.S. has “pivoted” (the term of the moment) back to Iraq even as it has been quietly bolstering its already impressive military strength in a “pivot” to Asia. At the same time, with a remarkable lack of publicity or media attention, it has begun pivoting into Africa. Americans know next to nothing about this (unless they’ve been reading the last two years of reporting on the subject by Nick Turse at this site) and yet the U.S. military is now in one fashion or another involved with 49 of the 54 countries on that continent.
If you need evidence that Washington’s intentions are indeed imperial and that the White House and the Pentagon consider just about every patch of land on the planet to be the business of this country, and fertile soil for that military, then spend a little time “in” Chad today. Once you’ve absorbed just how involved our military already is there, you can multiply those efforts across Africa, across the Middle East where they only intensify, and across Asia where they are also ramping up, and you’ll begin to take in a heavily garrisoned planet of war on which the U.S. remains (however haplessly) the unipolar power. And tell me that, when you’ve considered the small picture and the big one, we’re not talking about imperial Washington. Tom Engelhardt
The outpost that doesn’t exist in the country you can’t locate
A base camp, an authoritarian regime, and the future of U.S. blowback in Africa
By Nick Turse
Admit it. You don’t know where Chad is. You know it’s in Africa, of course. But beyond that? Maybe with a map of the continent and by some process of elimination you could come close. But you’d probably pick Sudan or maybe the Central African Republic. Here’s a tip. In the future, choose that vast, arid swath of land just below Libya.
Who does know where Chad is? That answer is simpler: the U.S. military. Recent contracting documents indicate that it’s building something there. Not a huge facility, not a mini-American town, but a small camp.
The Guardian reports: Tanzania has been accused of reneging on its promise to 40,000 Masai pastoralists by going ahead with plans to evict them and turn their ancestral land into a reserve for the royal family of Dubai to hunt big game.
Activists celebrated last year when the government said it had backed down over a proposed 1,500 sq km “wildlife corridor” bordering the Serengeti national park that would serve a commercial hunting and safari company based in the United Arab Emirates.
Now the deal appears to be back on and the Masai have been ordered to quit their traditional lands by the end of the year. Masai representatives will meet the prime minister, Mizengo Pinda, in Dodoma on Tuesday to express their anger. They insist the sale of the land would rob them of their heritage and directly or indirectly affect the livelihoods of 80,000 people. The area is crucial for grazing livestock on which the nomadic Masai depend.
Unlike last year, the government is offering compensation of 1 billion shillings (£369,350), not to be paid directly but to be channelled into socio-economic development projects. The Masai have dismissed the offer.
“I feel betrayed,” said Samwel Nangiria, co-ordinator of the local Ngonett civil society group. “One billion is very little and you cannot compare that with land. It’s inherited. Their mothers and grandmothers are buried in that land. There’s nothing you can compare with it.”
Nangiria said he believes the government never truly intended to abandon the scheme in the Loliondo district but was wary of global attention. “They had to pretend they were dropping the agenda to fool the international press.” [Continue reading…]
As Proudhon wrote, property is theft.
The land on which indigenous populations depend is invariably land upon which no conception of ownership has ever been imposed.
The people belong to the land.
Conquest and settlement invert this relationship, create property, and then assert exclusive rights over that property.
These assertions are inherently abusive because they mean that the land has been enslaved and now exists in the service of its owners.
In the case of the Maasai ancestral lands, the fact that these lands will be turned over to big-game hunters to indulge in regal rituals of slaughter — opportunities for sclerotic, impotent tycoons to pretend they are more virile than lions — fittingly illustrates the destructive nature of ownership.
The Guardian reports: Paintings of wild animals and hand markings left by adults and children on cave walls in Indonesia are at least 35,000 years old, making them some of the oldest artworks known.
The rock art was originally discovered in caves on the island of Sulawesi in the 1950s, but dismissed as younger than 10,000 years old because scientists thought older paintings could not possibly survive in a tropical climate.
But fresh analysis of the pictures by an Australian-Indonesian team has stunned researchers by dating one hand marking to at least 39,900 years old, and two paintings of animals, a pig-deer or babirusa, and another animal, probably a wild pig, to at least 35,400 and 35,700 years ago respectively.
The work reveals that rather than Europe being at the heart of an explosion of creative brilliance when modern humans arrived from Africa, the early settlers of Asia were creating their own artworks at the same time or even earlier.
Archaeologists have not ruled out that the different groups of colonising humans developed their artistic skills independently of one another, but an enticing alternative is that the modern human ancestors of both were artists before they left the African continent.
“Our discovery on Sulawesi shows that cave art was made at opposite ends of the Pleistocene Eurasian world at about the same time, suggesting these practices have deeper origins, perhaps in Africa before our species left this continent and spread across the globe,” said Dr Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist at the University of Wollongong. [Continue reading…]
As American hysteria over events in the Middle East rises, news about whatever grim video the Islamic State (IS) has just released jostles for attention with U.S. bombing runs in Iraq, prospective ones in Syria, and endless confusing statements out of Washington about what the next seat-of-the-pants version of its strategy might be. These days, such things are endlessly on the American radar screen. On the other hand, the U.S. military has been moving into Africa big time for years and just about nobody seems to notice. The Pentagon’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) now annually engages in one kind of activity or another with 49 of that continent’s 54 countries. Yet Americans know next to nothing about Washington’s “pivot” to a continent significant parts of which seem to be in a slow-motion process of destabilization that may be linked, at least in part, to U.S. military moves there.
Nearly everywhere in Africa, the U.S. military is in action. However, except in rare cases, like the recent announcement of an “Ebola surge” in Liberia, you would never know it. At the moment, for instance, according to the Associated Press, AFRICOM is “preparing to launch a ‘major’ border security program to help Nigeria and its neighbors combat the increasing number and scope of attacks by Islamic extremists.” We’re talking, of course, about the other “caliphate,” the one in northern Nigeria announced by Boko Haram, an outfit that makes the militants of IS look moderate. But that’s news you’re unlikely to read in this country, not at least until, at some future moment, things start to go really, really wrong. Similarly, U.S. drone bases are slowly spreading in Africa, but you’d have to have an eagle eye to notice it. Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that the “Pentagon is preparing to open a drone base in one of the remotest places on Earth.” Tucked away, far from prying eyes, in the middle of the Sahara desert, the U.S. will now be cleared to fly drones out of “the mud-walled desert city of Agadez.”
It was typically incisive coverage of the shadowy doings of AFRICOM by Craig Whitlock, the one mainstream reporter who seems to keep an eye on American military moves there. Other media outlets from Reuters to Air Force Times followed up with versions of the same story, but it all passed like a blip in the night. If it caught your attention, I’d be surprised.
Still, if you’re a TomDispatch reader, Washington’s pivot to Africa and the expansion of U.S. air operations there won’t surprise you greatly. After all, back in April, this site’s managing editor, Nick Turse, who’s had his eye on U.S. military operations in Africa for years, reported that, during a meeting for defense contractors, AFRICOM’s Rick Cook spoke about a future U.S. facility in Niger. That country, Cook said, “is in a nice strategic location that allows us to get to many other places reasonably quickly, so we are working very hard with the Nigeriens to come up with, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a base, but a place we can operate out of on a frequent basis.” Cook offered no information on the possible location of the facility, but Turse reported that contracting documents he had examined indicated that “the U.S. Air Force is seeking to purchase large quantities of jet fuel to be delivered to Niger’s Mano Dayak International Airport.” And just where is Mano Dayak International Airport located? You guessed it: Agadez, Niger.
By the way, it’s not just boots on the continent and drones over it these days. For the U.S. military, it’s also ships off the coast. But let Nick Turse tell you the rest. Tom Engelhardt
Pirates of the Gulf of Guinea
In the face of rising maritime insecurity, AFRICOM claims success and Obama embraces a strongman
By Nick Turse
[This story was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. Additional funding was provided through the generosity of Adelaide Gomer.]
“The Gulf of Guinea is the most insecure waterway, globally,” says Loic Moudouma. And he should know. Trained at the U.S. Naval War College, the lead maritime security expert of the Economic Community of Central African States, and a Gabonese Navy commander, his focus has been piracy and maritime crime in the region for the better part of a decade.
Moudouma is hardly alone in his assessment.
From 2012 to 2013, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence found a 25% jump in incidents, including vessels being fired upon, boarded, and hijacked, in the Gulf of Guinea, a vast maritime zone that curves along the west coast of Africa from Gabon to Liberia. Kidnappings are up, too. Earlier this year, Stephen Starr, writing for the CTC Sentinel, the official publication of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, asserted that, in 2014, the number of attacks would rise again.
Today, what most Americans know about piracy likely centers on an attraction at Walt Disney World and the Johnny Depp movies it inspired. If the Gulf of Guinea rings any bells at all, it’s probably because of the Ebola outbreak in, and upcoming U.S. military “surge” into, Liberia, the nation on the northern edge of that body of water. But for those in the know, the Gulf itself is an intractable hotspot on a vast continent filled with them and yet another area where U.S. military efforts have fallen short.
In light of recent history, perhaps it’s time to update that classic U.S. Army recruitment campaign slogan from “be all that you can be” to “build all that you can build.” Consider it an irony that, in an era when Congress struggles to raise enough money to give America’s potholed, overcrowded highways a helping hand, building new roads in Afghanistan proved no problem at all (even when they led nowhere). In fact, the U.S. military spent billions of taxpayer dollars in both Afghanistan and Iraq on nation-building infrastructural efforts of all sorts, and the Pentagon’s Inspector General (IG) repeatedly reported on the failures, disasters, and boondoggles that resulted. In 2012, for instance, the IG found that of the $10.6 billion in Afghan funding it examined, $7 billion was “potentially wasted.” And this has never ended. In 2014, the IG typically reported that “some 285 buildings, including barracks, medical clinics, and even fire stations built by the Army [in Afghanistan] are lined with substandard spray insulation so prone to ignition that they don’t meet international building codes.”
As of this year, more U.S. and NATO money had been “squandered” on the “reconstruction” of Afghanistan than was spent on the full post-World War-II Marshall Plan to put a devastated Europe back on its feet. And how has all that spending turned out? One thing is certain: those torrents of money helped create a devastating economy of corruption. As for reconstruction, the Inspector General found mainly “poor planning, shoddy construction, mechanical failures, and inadequate oversight.”
As TomDispatch’s Nick Turse, author of the award-winning book Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, reminds us today, thanks to the counterinsurgency strategy that the U.S. military has pursued in these years, most of this spending came under the heading of “winning hearts and minds” in the countries the U.S. invaded. Any American batallion-level commander in an Afghan village could essentially reach into his pocket and pull out the funds to build a schoolhouse. And yet, in the United States, much of our educational infrastructure, built after World War II for the Baby Boomer generation, is in need of reconstruction funds that are no longer in any pockets. The same holds true for American airports (none having been built in almost 20 years), bridges (almost half of them needing “major structural investments” in the next 15 years and 11% now considered “structurally deficient”), highways, dams, levees, sewage and water systems, and the like. In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country’s infrastructure a grade of D+ and estimated that, to keep the U.S. a fully functioning first-world country, some $3.6 trillion dollars would have to be invested in infrastructural work by 2020.
Fat chance. Though no one ever comments on it, the constant spending of money to win hearts and minds in distant lands should be considered passing strange when hearts and minds are at stake in Rhode Island, Arkansas, and Oregon. Stranger yet, the group designated to do that hearts-and-minds construction is also dedicated to destroying infrastructure in times of conflict. It shouldn’t be surprising that nation-building, school by school, road by road, might not be its strong point.
Worse yet, as Nick Turse reports, continuing his remarkable ongoing investigation into the U.S. military’s “pivot” to Africa, even after the disasters of Afghanistan and Iraq, it seems that there are hearts and minds still to win out there and all of Africa to build in. Tom Engelhardt
How not to win hearts and minds in Africa
Hushed Pentagon investigation slaps U.S. Africa Command’s humanitarian activities
By Nick Turse
[This story was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. Additional funding was provided through the generosity of Adelaide Gomer.]
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — Movie night in Mouloud, Djibouti. Skype lessons in Ethiopia. Veterinary training assistance in Garissa, Kenya. And in this country on the east coast of Africa, work on both primary and secondary schools and a cistern to provide clean water. These are all-American good works, but who is doing them — and why?
As I sit in a room filled with scores of high-ranking military officers resplendent in their dress uniforms — Kenyans in their khakis, Burundians and Ugandans clad in olive, Tanzanians in deep forest green sporting like-colored berets and red epaulets with crossed rifles on their shoulders — chances are that the U.S. military is carrying out some mission somewhere on this vast continent. It might be a kidnapping raid or a training exercise. It could be an airstrike or the construction of a drone base. Or, as I wait for the next speaker to approach the lectern at the “Land Forces East Africa” conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, it could be a humanitarian operation run not by civilians in the aid business, but by military troops with ulterior motives — part of a near-continent-wide campaign utilizing the core tenets of counterinsurgency strategy.
On return from his recent reporting trip to Africa, Nick Turse told me the following tale, which catches something of the nature of our battered world. At a hotel bar in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, he attended an informal briefing with a representative of a major nongovernmental organization (NGO). At one point, the briefer commented that just one more crisis might sink the whole aid operation. He thought she was referring to South Sudan, whose bottomless set of problems include unending civil war, no good prospects for peace, impending famine, poor governance, and a lack of the sort of infrastructure that could make a dent in such a famine. Nick responded accordingly, only to be corrected. She didn’t just mean South Sudan, she said, but the entire global NGO system. Given the chaos of the present moment across the Greater Middle East and elsewhere, global aid operations were, she insisted, on the brink. They were all, she told him, just one catastrophe away from the entire system collapsing.
I have to admit that as I watch the civilian carnage in Gaza; catastrophically devolving Iraq; the nightmare of Syria; the chaotic situation in Libya where, thanks to militia fighting, the capital’s international airport is now in ruins; the grim events surrounding Ukraine, which seem to be leading to an eerie, almost inconceivable revival of the Cold War ethos; not to speak of the situation in Afghanistan, where bad only becomes worse in the midst of an election from hell and the revival of the Taliban, I have a similar eerie feeling: just one more thing might tip this planet into… well, what?
And then, of course, I read Nick Turse’s second report from Africa, up-close-and-personal from South Sudan. It’s another place the U.S. chose as one of its special (un-)nation building projects and has seen it go to hell in a hand basket on a continent parts of which seem to be destabilizing as we watch. Now, I find myself wondering whether just one more disaster, one political or military catastrophe, might push us all over the edge of… well, who knows what? Tom Engelhardt
As a man-made famine looms, Christmas comes early to South Sudan
The limits of America’s African experiment in nation building
By Nick Turse
[This story was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute. Additional funding was provided through the generosity of Adelaide Gomer.]
Juba, South Sudan — The soft glow of the dancing white lights is a dead giveaway. It’s Christmas in July at the U.S. Embassy compound. Behind high walls topped with fierce-looking metal impediments meant to discourage climbers, there’s a party under way.
Close your eyes and you could be at a stateside summer barbeque or an office holiday party. Even with them open, the local realities of dirt roads and dirty water, civil war, mass graves, and nightly shoot-to-kill curfews seem foreign. These walls, it turns out, are even higher than they look.
For the last two years, TomDispatch Managing Editor Nick Turse has been following the Pentagon and the latest U.S. global command, AFRICOM, as they oversaw the expanding operations of the American military across that continent: drones, a special ops surge, interventions, training missions, bases (even if not called bases), proxy wars. Short of a major conflict, you name it and it’s probably happening. Washington’s move into Africa seems connected as well to the destabilization of parts of that continent and the rise of various terror groups across it, another subject Nick has been following. With rare exceptions, only recently have aspects of the Obama administration’s largely below-the-radar-screen “pivot” to Africa made it into the mainstream media. Even more recently, global chaos from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria to Ukraine has driven it out again. As a result, most Americans have no sense of how their future and Africa’s are being entwined in possibly explosive ways.
With this in mind, and with the support of the Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund (as well as the generosity of Adelaide Gomer), Nick has gone to Tanzania and South Sudan to explore the situation further himself. Today, as the first fruits of that trip, TomDispatch has a major story on a development that has, until now, remained distinctly below the radar screen: the Africa-wide contest between the globe’s “sole superpower,” the U.S., and its preeminent rising economic power, China, over which will benefit most from the exploitation of that continent.
Over the next several months, there will be more pieces from Nick on America’s growing stake in and effect on Africa. The next will address a looming crisis in the world’s youngest nation. He offers a preview: “My aid agency contacts say that, in September, the United Nations will officially declare a famine in large swaths of South Sudan. As one humanitarian worker here put it to me, add famine to war and you have a powder keg. ‘It’s going to get worse,’ says another, ‘before it gets better.’” Tom Engelhardt
China, America, and a new Cold War in Africa?
Is the conflict in South Sudan the opening salvo in the battle for a continent?
By Nick Turse
[This story was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. Additional funding was provided through the generosity of Adelaide Gomer.]
Juba, South Sudan — Is this country the first hot battlefield in a new cold war? Is the conflict tearing this new nation apart actually a proxy fight between the world’s two top economic and military powers? That’s the way South Sudan’s Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth tells it. After “midwifing” South Sudan into existence with billions of dollars in assistance, aid, infrastructure projects, and military support, the U.S. has watched China emerge as the major beneficiary of South Sudan’s oil reserves. As a result, Makuei claims, the U.S. and other Western powers have backed former vice president Riek Machar and his rebel forces in an effort to overthrow the country’s president, Salva Kiir. China, for its part, has played a conspicuous double game. Beijing has lined up behind Kiir, even as it publicly pushes both sides to find a diplomatic solution to a simmering civil war. It is sending peacekeepers as part of the U.N. mission even as it also arms Kiir’s forces with tens of millions of dollars worth of new weapons.
While experts dismiss Makuei’s scenario — “farfetched” is how one analyst puts it — there are average South Sudanese who also believe that Washington supports the rebels. The U.S. certainly did press Kiir’s government to make concessions, as his supporters are quick to remind anyone willing to listen, pushing it to release senior political figures detained as coup plotters shortly after fighting broke out in late 2013. America, they say, cared more about a handful of elites sitting in jail than all the South Sudanese suffering in a civil war that has now claimed more than 10,000 lives, resulted in mass rapes, displaced more than 1.5 million people (around half of them children), and pushed the country to the very brink of famine. Opponents of Kiir are, however, quick to mention the significant quantities of Chinese weaponry flooding into the country. They ask why the United States hasn’t put pressure on a president they no longer see as legitimate.
While few outside South Sudan would ascribe to Makuei’s notion of a direct East-West proxy war here, his conspiracy theory should, at least, serve as a reminder that U.S. and Chinese interests are at play in this war-torn nation and across Africa as a whole — and that Africans are taking note. Almost anywhere you look on the continent, you can now find evidence of both the American and the Chinese presence, although they take quite different forms. The Chinese are pursuing a ruthlessly pragmatic economic power-projection strategy with an emphasis on targeted multilateral interventions in African conflicts. U.S. policy, in contrast, appears both more muddled and more military-centric, with a heavy focus on counterterrorism efforts meant to bolster amorphous strategic interests.
For the last decade, China has used “soft power” — aid, trade, and infrastructure projects — to make major inroads on the continent. In the process, it has set itself up as the dominant foreign player here. The U.S., on the other hand, increasingly confronts Africa as a “battlefield” or “battleground” or “war” in the words of the men running its operations. In recent years, there has been a substantial surge in U.S. military activities of every sort, including the setting up of military outposts and both direct and proxy interventions. These two approaches have produced starkly contrasting results for the powers involved and the rising nations of the continent. Which one triumphs may have profound implications for all parties in the years ahead. The differences are, perhaps, nowhere as stark as in the world’s newest nation, South Sudan.
Amid the horrific headlines about the fanatical Islamist sect Boko Haram that should make Nigerians cringe, here’s a line from a recent Guardian article that should make Americans do the same, as the U.S. military continues its “pivot” to Africa: “[U.S.] defense officials are looking to Washington’s alliance with Yemen, with its close intelligence cooperation and CIA drone strikes, as an example for dealing with Boko Haram.”
In fact, as the latest news reports indicate, that “close” relationship is proving something less than a raging success. An escalating drone campaign against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has resulted in numerous dead “militants,” but also numerous dead Yemeni civilians — and a rising tide of resentment against Washington and possibly support for AQAP. As the Washington-Sana relationship ratchets up, meaning more U.S. boots on the ground, more CIA drones in the skies, and more attacks on AQAP, the results have been dismal indeed: only recently, the U.S. embassy in the country’s capital was temporarily closed to the public (for fear of attack), the insurgents launched a successful assault on soldiers guarding the presidential palace in the heart of that city, oil pipelines were bombed, electricity in various cities intermittently blacked out, and an incident, a claimed attempt to kidnap a CIA agent and a U.S. Special Operations commando from a Sana barbershop, resulted in two Yemeni deaths (and possibly rising local anger). In the meantime, AQAP seems ever more audacious and the country ever less stable. In other words, Washington’s vaunted Yemeni model has been effective so far — if you happen to belong to AQAP.
One of the poorer, less resource rich countries on the planet, Yemen is at least a global backwater. Nigeria is another matter. With the largest economy in Africa, much oil, and much wealth sloshing around, it has a corrupt leadership, a brutal and incompetent military, and an Islamist insurgency in its poverty-stricken north that, for simple bestiality, makes AQAP look like a paragon of virtue. The U.S. has aided and trained Nigerian “counterterrorism” forces for years with little to show. Add in the Yemeni model with drones overhead and who knows how the situation may spin further out of control.
In response to Boko Haram’s kidnapping of 276 young women, the Obama administration has already sent in a small military team (with FBI, State Department, and Justice Department representatives included) and launched drone and “manned surveillance flights,” which may prove to be just the first steps in what one day could become a larger operation. Under the circumstances, it’s worth remembering that the U.S. has already played a curious role in Nigeria’s destabilization, thanks to its 2011 intervention in Libya. In the chaos surrounding the fall of Libyan autocrat Muammar Qaddafi, his immense arsenals of weapons were looted and soon enough AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades, and other light weaponry, as well as the requisite pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns or anti-aircraft guns made their way across an increasingly destabilized region, including into the hands of Boko Haram. Its militants are far better armed and trained today thanks to post-Libyan developments.
All of this, writes Nick Turse, is but part of what the U.S. military has started to call the “new normal” in Africa. The only U.S. reporter to consistently follow the U.S. pivot to that region in recent years, Turse makes clear that every new African nightmare turns out to be another opening for U.S. military involvement. Each further step by that military leads to yet more regional destabilization, and so to a greater urge to bring the Yemeni model (and its siblings) to bear with… well, you know what effect. Why doesn’t Washington? Tom Engelhardt
The U.S. military’s new normal in Africa
A secret African mission and an African mission that’s no secret
By Nick Turse
What is Operation New Normal?
It’s a question without an answer, a riddle the U.S. military refuses to solve. It’s a secret operation in Africa that no one knows anything about. Except that someone does. His name is Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee Magee. He lives and breathes Operation New Normal. But he doesn’t want to breath paint fumes or talk to me, so you can’t know anything about it.
Confused? Stay with me.
Whatever Operation New Normal may be pales in comparison to the real “new normal” for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). The lower-cased variant is bold and muscular. It’s an expeditionary force on a war footing. To the men involved, it’s a story of growth and expansion, new battlefields, “combat,” and “war.” It’s the culmination of years of construction, ingratiation, and interventions, the fruits of wide-eyed expansion and dismal policy failures, the backing of proxies to fight America’s battles, while increasing U.S. personnel and firepower in and around the continent. It is, to quote an officer with AFRICOM, the blossoming of a “war-fighting combatant command.” And unlike Operation New Normal, it’s finally heading for a media outlet near you.
Let me explain why writing the introduction to today’s post by TomDispatch Managing Editor Nick Turse is such a problem. In these intros, I tend to riff off the ripples of news that regularly surround whatever subject an author might be focusing on. So when it comes to the U.S. military, if you happen to be writing about the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia,” really, no problem. Background pieces on that pile up daily. How could you resist, for instance, saying something about the U.S. refusal to send an aircraft carrier to China for a parade of Pacific fleets (after the Chinese refused to allow Japanese ships to participate)? It’s mean girls of the Pacific, no? Have an interest in the Ukrainian crisis? Piece of cake, top of the news any time — like those curious pro-Russian protestors in eastern Ukraine who tried to liberate an opera house in the city of Kharkiv, mistaking it for city hall, or the hints that U.S. troops might soon be stationed in former Soviet satellite states. Or, say, you’re writing about threats in cyberspace — couldn’t be simpler! Not when you have Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel offering an amusing assurance that the country that launched the first cyberwar and is ramping up its new cybercommand at warp speed “does not seek to militarize cyberspace.” And, of course, any day of the week U.S.-Iranian relations are a walk in the park (in the dark). At the moment, for instance, the Iranian nominee for U.N. ambassador — previously that country’s ambassador to Belgium, Italy, Australia, and the European Union, but once a translator for the group that took U.S. embassy hostages in Tehran in 1979 — has been declared “not viable” by the Obama administration. In a remarkable act of congressional heroism, the U.S. Senate, led by that odd couple Ted Cruz and Chuck Schumer, has definitively banned him from setting foot in the country. Mean girls of Washington? Who could resist such material?
Unfortunately, there’s one place in that city’s global viewfinder that never seems to provides much of anything to riff off of, and so no fun whatsoever: Africa. Yes, today and Tuesday, Nick Turse continues his remarkable coverage of the U.S. military pivot to that continent, which promises a lifetime of chaos and blowback to come. Admittedly, what’s happening isn’t your typical, patented, early twenty-first-century-style U.S. invasion, but it certainly represents part of a new-style scramble for Africa — with the U.S. taking the military path and the Chinese the economic one. By the time U.S. Africa Command is finished, however, one thing is essentially guaranteed: a terrible mess and a lifetime of hurt will be left behind. This particular pivot is happening on a startling scale and yet remains just below the American radar screen. Explain it as you will, with the rarest of exceptions the U.S. media, riveted by Obama’s so far exceedingly modest pivot to Asia, finds the African one hardly worth a moment’s notice, which is why, today, without the usual combustible mix of what’s recently in the news and what’s newsmaking in Turse’s two pieces, I have no choice but to skip the introduction. Tom Engelhardt
AFRICOM goes to war on the sly
U.S. officials talk candidly (just not to reporters) about bases, winning hearts and minds, and the “war” in Africa
By Nick Turse
What the military will say to a reporter and what is said behind closed doors are two very different things — especially when it comes to the U.S. military in Africa. For years, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has maintained a veil of secrecy about much of the command’s activities and mission locations, consistently downplaying the size, scale, and scope of its efforts. At a recent Pentagon press conference, AFRICOM Commander General David Rodriguez adhered to the typical mantra, assuring the assembled reporters that the United States “has little forward presence” on that continent. Just days earlier, however, the men building the Pentagon’s presence there were telling a very different story — but they weren’t speaking with the media. They were speaking to representatives of some of the biggest military engineering firms on the planet. They were planning for the future and the talk was of war.
I recently experienced this phenomenon myself during a media roundtable with Lieutenant General Thomas Bostick, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. When I asked the general to tell me just what his people were building for U.S. forces in Africa, he paused and said in a low voice to the man next to him, “Can you help me out with that?” Lloyd Caldwell, the Corps’s director of military programs, whispered back, “Some of that would be close hold” — in other words, information too sensitive to reveal.
The only thing Bostick seemed eager to tell me about were vague plans to someday test a prototype “structural insulated panel-hut,” a new energy-efficient type of barracks being developed by cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He also assured me that his people would get back to me with answers. What I got instead was an “interview” with a spokesman for the Corps who offered little of substance when it came to construction on the African continent. Not much information was available, he said, the projects were tiny, only small amounts of money had been spent so far this year, much of it funneled into humanitarian projects. In short, it seemed as if Africa was a construction backwater, a sleepy place, a vast landmass on which little of interest was happening.
Fast forward a few weeks and Captain Rick Cook, the chief of U.S. Africa Command’s Engineer Division, was addressing an audience of more than 50 representatives of some of the largest military engineering firms on the planet — and this reporter. The contractors were interested in jobs and he wasn’t pulling any punches. “The eighteen months or so that I’ve been here, we’ve been at war the whole time,” Cook told them. “We are trying to provide opportunities for the African people to fix their own African challenges. Now, unfortunately, operations in Libya, South Sudan, and Mali, over the last two years, have proven there’s always something going on in Africa.”
One day they arrested me and they showed me everything. They showed me a list of all my phone calls and they played a conversation I had with my brother. They arrested me because we talked about politics on the phone. It was the first phone I ever owned, and I thought I could finally talk freely.
— Former member of an Oromo opposition party, now a refugee in Kenya, May 2013
Human Rights Watch: Since 2010, Ethiopia’s information technology capabilities have grown by leaps and bounds. Although Ethiopia still lags well behind many other countries in Africa, mobile phone coverage is increasing and access to email and social media have opened up opportunities for young Ethiopians—especially those living in urban areas—to communicate with each other and share viewpoints and ideas.
The Ethiopian government should consider the spread of Internet and other communications technology an important opportunity. Encouraging the growth of the telecommunications sector is crucial for the country to modernize and achieve its ambitious economic growth targets.
Instead, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of ethnically-based political parties in power for more than 20 years, continues to severely restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. It has used repressive laws to decimate civil society organizations and independent media and target individuals with politically-motivated prosecutions. The ethnic Oromo population has been particularly affected, with the ruling party using the fear of the ongoing but limited insurgency by the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in the Oromia region to justify widespread repression of the ethnic Oromo population. Associations with other banned groups, including Ginbot 7, are also used to justify repression.
As a result, the increasing technological ability of Ethiopians to communicate, express their views, and organize is viewed less as a social benefit and more as a political threat for the ruling party, which depends upon invasive monitoring and surveillance to maintain control of its population.
The Ethiopian government has maintained strict control over Internet and mobile technologies so it can monitor their use and limit the type of information that is being communicated and accessed. [Continue reading…]
After years in the shadows, U.S. Navy SEALs emerged in a big way with the 2011 night raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Afterward, they were lauded in print as supermen, feted by the president, and praised by the first lady. Soon, some of the country’s most secretive and elite special operators were taking the big screen by storm with 2012’s blockbuster Zero Dark Thirty and a film starring actual Navy Seals, Act of Valor.
Last year, yet another Hollywood smash, Captain Phillips, featured heroic SEALs. This time, the elite mariners weren’t slipping into a compound in Pakistan or on some crazy global quest, but killing pirates off the coast of Africa. The location was telling.
In recent years, as stories of SEAL exploits have bubbled up into the news, the operations of America’s secret military have been on an exponential growth spurt (with yet more funding promised in future Pentagon budgets) — and a major focus of their activities has been Africa. In 2012, for example, SEALs carried out a hostage rescue mission in Somalia. Last fall, word of a SEAL mission in that country hit the news after a bid to kidnap a terror suspect went south, and the Americans were driven off under heavy fire. (That same night, Army Delta Force commandos successfully captured a Libyan militant in a night raid.) A few months later, three of four SEALs conducting an evacuation mission in South Sudan were wounded when the aircraft they were flying in was hit by small arms fire. And just recently, SEALs were again in the news, this time for capturing an oil tanker with cargo from Libya that the weak U.S.-backed government there considered stolen.
By all accounts, SEAL missions in Africa are on the rise, and the Navy’s special operators are far from alone. For the last several years, Nick Turse, author of the bestseller Kill Anything That Moves, has been covering the expansion of U.S. Africa Command and the quiet, under-the-radar growth of U.S. operations on that continent at TomDispatch. He has repeatedly broken news about the military’s long African reach, its new bases (even if never referred to by that name), and its creation of a logistics network that now stretches across significant parts of the continent. Today, Turse offers a revealing look at the quickening pace of U.S. military operations in Africa as the Pentagon prepares for future wars, and the destabilization and blowback it is already helping to sow on that continent. Tom Engelhardt
U.S. military averaging more than a mission a day in Africa
Documents reveal blinding pace of ops in 2013, more of the same for 2014
By Nick Turse
The numbers tell the story: 10 exercises, 55 operations, 481 security cooperation activities.
For years, the U.S. military has publicly insisted that its efforts in Africa are small scale. Its public affairs personnel and commanders have repeatedly claimed no more than a “light footprint” on that continent, including a remarkably modest presence when it comes to military personnel. They have, however, balked at specifying just what that light footprint actually consists of. During an interview, for instance, a U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) spokesman once expressed worry that tabulating the command’s deployments would offer a “skewed image” of U.S. efforts there.
It turns out that the numbers do just the opposite.