Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Truth About Land Reform in Zimbabwe

From the BBC,

Zimbabwe's often violent land reform programme has not been the complete economic disaster widely portrayed, a new study has found.

Most of the country's 4,000 white farmers - then the backbone of the country's agricultural economy - were forced from their land, which was handed over to about a million black Zimbabweans.

The study's lead author, Ian Scoones from the UK's Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University, told BBC News he was "genuinely surprised" to see how much activity was happening on the farms visited during the 10-year study. "People were getting on with things in difficult circumstances and doing remarkably well," he said.

When Zimbabwe announced its radical agrarian reforms aimed at redistributing white owned farms to black workers, the Western media initiated a demonization campaign against the government of Robert Mugabe. The reforms were defined as bad economic policy, reverse racist and black farm workers were blamed for lower productive outputs. The study discussed above puts to shame the core arguments of Western critics and validate the necessity for radical land redistribution in other Southern African countries. Not surprisingly, there has been a lack of significant coverage of the facts on the ground. The reason is because the relative success of land redistribution in Zimbabwe invalidates the free-market orthodoxy to which Western sources say there is no alternative.

And that is exactly the reason why we should spread this story as far as possible.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Obama's Visit to India

President Obama is in India today courting one of the world’s growing economic powers on issues of trade, counter-terrorism and nuclear proliferation. The image of President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, signing agreements and addressing the “defining challenges of our time” are supposed to be a signal of international cooperation and democratic values but I can’t help but wonder how the most widespread issue facing the vast majority of people in both countries is off the agenda?

According, to the Hindustan Times of India,
“India has been ranked among top 10 global countries on income gain but widening disparity between rich and poor and gender inequality have been identified as major challenges in a United Nations report released on Thursday. The Human Development Report 2010 said India gained 15 positions on global Human Development Index (HDI) because of a high income growth since 1970. However, on overall HDI, Nepal, being the second fastest HDI gainer globally, did much better.”
India is not alone. As corporate profits soar and the burden of economic recovery is placed onto the backs of workers and the unemployed, the gap between the rich and poor is growing in nearly every country around the world including the United States. If wages internationally are declining and unemployment rising as corporations heighten exploitation and roll back social protections, then the only logical expectation is greater social instability, conflict and death at the hand of treatable diseases. In other words a decline in human well-being even if economies grow slightly.

The United States and India should be trying to bridge the rich-poor divide in their own countries and cooperating to ensure greater accountability among multinational corporations who skirt labor and environmental standards. Manufacturers, petroleum companies, and investors operating in North America and South Asia should be forced to follow unified codes of conduct that puts the breaks on ruthless competition. There should also be a coordinated attempt to promote fairer trade agreements between the two countries that create quality jobs in both nations and raise incomes.

There are a number of very important issues on the table during the President’s visit in India. But unfortunately, the most critical problem has been overlooked.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Google and the CIA Plan Joint Spy Technology

Google has long depicted its self as one of the good corporations, even promoting the motto "don't be evil". But investing along with the CIA on new advanced internet spy technology that "scours tens of thousands of websites, blogs and Twitter accounts to find the relationships between people, organizations, actions and incidents — both present and still-to-come" is not exactly the best way to keep the progressive facade up. Thanks to Democracy Now for breaking this story.

Shocking Video From the War in Afghanistan

The Guardian in U.K. has published an excerpt of a film highlighting "the horrific chaos of a stalemate that is taking its toll in blood" in Afghanistan. I just wish this video was required viewing for millions of Americans who never have to see or hear the brutality of the longest war in U.S. history in Afghanistan.

The Netherlands started withdrawing over a thousand of its troops from the war in Afghanistan. After a year of duty with NATO forces, the country has left behind an increasingly grim war effort to which the United States supplies 2/3 of all soldiers. The war in Afghanistan has indeed become a bloody stalemate with the U.S. apparently giving up on winning hearts and minds and now focused on fomenting a civil war to provide cover for them to leave. According to Brian Becker, national coordinator of the ANSWER anti-war coalition, the strategy of the Obama administration in Afghanistan is the same one pursued by President Richard Nixon at a similar phase in the Vietnam war.
"The Obama administration and its generals are borrowing a page from Nixon and Kissinger’s murderous “Vietnamization” plan, which became the announced policy in 1969. Since there was a rising tide of anti-war sentiment at home, Nixon and the Pentagon wanted the Vietnamese to kill each other in greater numbers as a way of diminishing U.S. war dead."
Validating Becker's comparison, Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the famous Pentagon papers during the Vietnam war, has come out swinging against the current war effort in Afghanistan. He has even drawn parallels about how propaganda has been used in both cases to manipulate the American public.
"I would say in a very crucial way they are deceiving us. President Obama in his state-of-the-union speech said that he would begin withdrawing troops in July 2011. Although other officials, like Robert Gates, almost immediately backed away from that, they all collaborated in implying, with Obama, that July 2011 would represent the high point of our troop presence there.

I feel quite confident that unless the public and Congress demand that that timetable is adhered to, there will be more troops in 2012 than there are in 2011, and more troops in 2013 than there are in 2012. In other words, I believe we are currently in the process of an open-ended increase, which is limited by the fact that we don't have a draft."
There is no way that this war could sustain its self politically if the images and brutality of the effort was made known to the American people. That is why it is so tragic that more U.S. media outlets have not published videos like the film above. Perhaps, blogs including my own can help fill the void.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Who is to Blame for the Famine in Niger?

There is currently a famine in the African country of Niger that threatens to kill millions of people, but as attention now spotlights the mounting disaster the question still remains, who is to blame for the lack of leadership surrounding food security in Niger and the Sahel region in general?

For starters we can point the finger directly at a hand full of African political leaders that have spent millions of dollars in public resources (financial and technical) on military affairs as part of a NATO-led "war on terror" in the Sahel at the expense of people's needs. In recent years, the militarization of Africa has diverted attention away from the most important on going war in the continent, the war against poverty. For all of the propaganda about the threat of Al-Qaeda to civilian lives in Africa, there has never been and can never be another force more lethal than hunger. The failure of Africa's political leadership to provide for the most basic necessities of people in a continent rich in oil and mineral resources is absolutely criminal. In the 21st century, with all of the numerous technological and scientific advancements available to humanity, it is ridiculous that millions of people can die from a lack of something as fundamental as food.

What is even worse, is that the African Union can mobilize thousands of troops to fight a civil war in Somalia, indiscriminately killing civilians, but Niger is forced to look toward the West to send food aid to those on the verge of starvation. If ever there were a time for real progressive leadership in Africa, now is it.

The U.S. Military Fights to Silence Opposition to the Afghanistan War

Protesters in Afghanistan burned SUV's and chanted "Death to America" after security armored vehicles of the US embassy crashed killing civilians. The public outcry against the United States after this accident shows that their presence there is not welcomed by most of the Afghan people even in the capital city of Kabul where they have the strongest base of support. Rather than confront the reality of an unpopular colonial-type occupation head-on, the U.S. military continues to cover-up their failures in Afghanistan in order to justify their continued occupation.

Secretary Robert Gates of the U.S. Defense Department for example condemned the release of thousands of documents that reveal the indiscriminate killing of Afghan civilians and the failure of the U.S-lead war effort to defeat the Taliban. Hypocritically, Secretary Gates is criticizing the leak of information about the crimes of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan rather than demanding an investigation of those who committed the crimes. He has also signaled that the documented evidence of U.S. crimes committed against civilians in Afghanistan will not in anyway change U.S. policy there."They do not, in my view, fundamentally call into question the efficacy of our current strategy in Afghanistan and its prospects for success.”

It is well known that Secretary Gates believes that public opposition in Europe and the United States to the occupation of Afghanistan is as dangerous to his mission there as the Taliban. He publicly stated his fear that the anti-war sentiment of Europeans could pressure European governments to back-down from the U.S.-lead wars in the Middle-East. This of course would be a positive development and signal of democracy if leaders responded to the public opposition of their citizens to endless war and occupation. But for the U.S. superpower democracy is not the goal. The Afghan war is an unpopular war at home as it is inside Afghanistan its self, but under the logic of empire voices of opposition are considered obsolete.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

AFRICOM & US Militarization in Africa: Radio Interview

Yesterday, I was part of an hour long discussion on WPFW radio in Washington D.C. with Emira Woods Co-Director, Foreign Policy In Focus, Institute for Policy Studies and coordinator of Trans-Africa Forum, Mwiza Munthal. We talked at length about current events in Africa related to the U.S. military Command in Africa (AFRICOM). For my part, I tried to emphasize the fact that there is an on going class struggle in Africa that we should be conscious of and support as we discuss militarization.

Click here to listen to the full interview.

Republican Candidate for Governor Calls Islam a "Cult" Not a Religion

From Politico
Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, one of three Republican candidates running for governor, has drawn rebukes after suggesting that Islam may be a “cult” instead of a religion...Ramsey continued, “Now you could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, a way of life, or cult – whatever you want to call it. We do protect our religions, but at the same time, this is something that we are going to have to face.”

Part of the reason Americans find it so easy to support endless war and occupation in Africa and the Middle-East, is because mainstream political leaders and preachers are teaching that Islam its self is the enemy. Their ignorance overlooks the fact that the origins of "terrorism" lie at the heart of U.S. foreign policy as discussed in my previous post.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"Good Muslim, Bad Muslim": Second Thoughts on 'Terrorism' in Africa

With all the enthusiasm among the African Union over expanding the U.S. "war on terrorism" deep into Africa today, perhaps it is wise to consider the voice of one of the continent's finest public intellectuals Mahmood Mamdani of Uganda. In his 2005 work Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, Mamdani explains that the attempt to identify the causes for extremism as rooted in a conservative cultural interpretation of Islam is based in a series of flawed assumptions about the history and politics of the modern world---a world shaped by Cold War power relations.

Your can read parts of Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror via google books by clicking here.

Mark Weisbrot on the Destabilization Campaign Against Venezuela

The escalation of tensions between Venezuela and U.S. ally Colombia in Latin America have featured prominently in the American press with the slogan being that the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, was exposed for his support of "terrorists" in the border region with Colombia. Even the National Public Radio (NPR) has reported this line uncritically. The aim of this carefully timed and coordinated message in the press is to destabilize Venezuela's government ahead of major parliamentary elections in September there. As usual, the media took the bait. Needless to say, the barrage of propaganda in our media was predicted.

Mark Weisbrot from the economic think-tank CEPR wrote a very important article in the British Guardian newspaper outlining exactly how the U.S. is planning to use the issue of "terrorism" as part of a campaign to help the opposition in Venezuela win gains in the up coming election. I am re-posting the article on this page, but you can read the entire original article by clicking here.

In March I wrote about the Obama administration's contribution to the election campaign under way in Venezuela, where voters will choose a new national assembly in September. I predicted that certain things would happen before September, among them some new "discoveries" that Venezuela supports terrorism. Venezuela has had 13 elections or referenda since Hugo Chávez was first elected in 1998, and in the run-up to most of them, Washington has usually done something to influence the political and media climate.

The intentions were already clear on March 11, when General Douglas Fraser, the head of the US Southern Command was testifying to the US Senate. In response to a question from Senator John McCain about Venezuela's alleged support for terrorism, Fraser said:

"We have continued to watch very closely … We have not seen any connections specifically that I can verify that there has been a direct government-to-terrorist connection."

The next day he recanted his testimony after meeting with the US state department's top official for Latin America, Arturo Valenzuela.

This made it clear that the "terrorist" message was going to be a very important part of Washington's campaign. Even the Bush administration had never forced its military officers to retract their statements when they contradicted the state department's political agenda in Latin America, which they sometimes did.

Unfortunately, the campaign continues. Last Thursday, Colombia's ambassador to the Organisation of the American States (OAS) accused Venezuela at an extraordinary meeting of the OAS of harbouring 1,500 guerillas, and asked for the OAS to take action. The timing was noteworthy to many observers. President Lula da Silva of Brazil noted that it "seemed strange that this occurs a few days before [President] Uribe [of Colombia] leaves office. The new president has given signals that he wants to build peace [with Venezuela]. Everything was going well until Uribe made this denunciation."

Venezuela responded by breaking diplomatic relations with Colombia. It had previously cut off much of its trade with Colombia over the past two years, in response to Colombia's agreement with Washington to expand its military presence at seven US military bases in Colombia. Since Venezuela had been Colombia's largest trading partner in the region, it is possible that the new president, Juan Manuel Santos, was looking to improve relations for business reasons if nothing else. He had invited Chávez to his inauguration.

Of course, Uribe does not necessarily take orders from Washington, but it would be naive to assume that someone who has received more than $6bn from the US would not check with his benefactors before doing something like this. The fact that the US state department immediately took Colombia's side in the dispute is further indication that they approved. Even Washington's (rightwing) allies in the region did not take sides, with the government of Chile, for example, issuing a neutral statement; this would have been the normal diplomatic protocol for Washington too, if this were not part of a political and public relations campaign against Venezuela.

Other governments clearly saw Colombia's action as a political move, and were upset with what looked like the OAS being manipulated for these purposes. President Lula was cited in the Brazilian press saying that the venue of the dispute should be moved to Unasur, because the US would tilt the negotiations toward Colombia and against Venezuela. Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, strongly criticised the head of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, for not having consultation before granting Colombia's request for a meeting of the OAS permanent council. Patiño said that Insulza had shown his "absolute incapacity" to direct the organisation and to "look for peace in the region". Bolivia's president, Evo Morales, had even harsher rhetoric for Uribe, calling him "a loyal representative of the US government, with its military bases in Colombia designed to provoke a war between Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua."

This dispute highlights the importance of the institutional changes that the left-of-centre governments in Latin America are trying to make. The increasing importance of Unasur, displacing the OAS, has become vital to Latin American progress and stability. For example, because of the influence of the US (as usual, with a handful of rightwing allies) in the OAS, it failed to take stronger action to restore the democratically elected government of President Zelaya of Honduras last year.

When Bolivia was having problems with attempts by the separatist, extra-parliamentary opposition – including violence and de-stabilisation efforts – it was Unasur that met in Santiago in September 2008 and threw its weight behind the democratic government of Evo Morales. When the US decided last fall to expand its presence at the military bases in Colombia, Unasur reached an agreement – which included Colombia – that prohibited these bases from being used for any actions outside of the country.

As to the substance of Colombia's latest claims, guerillas and paramilitaries have been crossing the 2,000km border with Venezuela – much of it dense jungle, mountains and all kinds of difficult terrain – for decades. There is no evidence that anything has changed recently, and nothing to indicate that the Venezuelan government, which has extradited guerillas to Colombia, supports any armed groups – as General Fraser testified before he was apparently forced to take it back.

On Tuesday Insulza – perhaps feeling like he had gone too far to please Washington – told CNN en Español that "the guerrillas come and go, and it is quite difficult to ask just one country to control the border … Uribe says he doesn't know why Venezuela doesn't detain the guerillas, but the truth is that Colombia can't control them either." He might have added that the US, with all its vastly greater resources and superior technology, doesn't have an easy time controlling the flow of drugs, guns, and people across its own much more manageable border with Mexico.

On Thursday there will be an emergency meeting of Unasur, and hopefully a process of diplomacy will begin to resolve the dispute. Certainly there will be a better chance of success to the extent that Washington – and its political campaigns against governments that it doesn't like – can be kept at a distance.

African Union Reaches the Height of Stupidity in Somalia

How in the hell did the African Union get caught in a U.S. created quagmire in Somalia? Was this the conception of a united Africa that Kwame Nkrumah spoke about in the early days of the then Organization of African Unity? When will African leaders tire of endless war and bloodshed? Maybe when the U.S. money and guns stop flowing.

The civil war in Somalia is not a war of necessity or an existential battle between good and evil but is the indiscriminate killing of Somali people by outsiders and a government in Mogadishu seen as illegitimate by the majority of the Somali people. Following a shocking suicide bombing by a Somalia insurgent group in Uganda during the World Cup Finals game, Guinea in West Africa has promised to send some of its troops into this mess. Isn't this the same military responsible for conducting a coup then raping and killing innocent Guineans in 2009? A perfect fit for the daily murder and destruction being rained on the Somali people day after day.

The U.S. military claims that the war in Somalia is a defensive action against Al-Qaeda Islamists. And the African Union has taken the bait (plus billions of dollars in U.S. weapons and cash). But a researcher at the the Council on Foreign Relations did an assessment of U.S. intelligence in 2007, that Somalia was actually under no threat whatsoever from foreign jihadist movements or from foreign terrorist groups. According to the intelligence reports at the time, Al-Qaeda's experience recruiting in Somalia was so terrible that U.S. intelligence basically said, "There's no way they can operate there." So what happened?

In 2006, a coalition of Somali leaders defeated US-backed warlords and established peace in the capital of Mogadishu for the first time in decades. The United States however, had other plans and exaggerated the threat of Al-Qaeda in order to build public support for an orchestrated Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. Ethiopia and U.S. special forces led warlords in the violent removal of the moderate Islamist Somali government and worked to create civil war in Somalia. Thousands of of civilians including women and children were murdered sometimes targeted in their homes, schools and places of worship by the U.S.-instigated civil war. The violence of a newly installed regime of warlords in Somalia continued and eventually led to hardline factions with ties to other militias fighting in Afghanistan and Yemen resisting foreign occupation using terrorist tactics to fight back.

What the African Union fails to realize is that the most effective role that body can play in Somalia is as mediator between factions. Instead, the African Union has chosen to fight a war in defense of a government of mostly U.S.-backed warlords who have been the central impediment to peace in Somalia for several decades. The Wall Street Journal wrote a piece today documenting the problem African Union forces face as they shell civilians in Somalia and further feed the cynicism about external interference in the country. The African Union lead by Uganda has to be about the most gullible or greedy leaders on the planet.

Note: You can read a detailed breakdown here of how the bumbling idiots in the U.S. military created Islamic extremism in Somalia through its own interference and has facilitated a conflict that could send the whole region up in flames.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Why Were Black Farmers Robbed to Fund Imperial War?

The U.S. Congress passed an additional 60 billion dollars for the war effort in Afghanistan with a vote that cut across party lines. The funding was approved only after deleting $23 billion in unrelated spending for social programs including money allotted for black farmers who desperately need it. Black farmers, are owed $1.2 billion for a long history of discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The decision by the U.S. Congress to give billions more public money to the war in Afghanistan, even after yesterday's shocking leaked war documents, has exposed the consensus among Democrats and Republicans that the U.S. war machine should march on unchecked, no matter what the consequences. The bill will bring total war expenses to $1.1 trillion. A majority of the eligible black farmers due money from the federal government are over 65 and in poor health. Today's vote in the U.S. Congress further underscores the imperial nature of our government and the lack of a real check on executive power or the U.S. military by elected officials. But it also underscores the racist neglect of public officials to redress historical discrimination against African-Americans. All in the name of empire.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Afghanistan: What the Wikileaks files TRULY reveal

The following message is the most damning response to what for me has been among the most horrifying examples of how American tax-payer money and lives are being spent on a loosing conflict in Afghanistan. The leak of documents from 2004-2010 on the Afghanistan war, which is already the longest war in American history, has revealed even more what a shameful and murderous campaign the occupation been.

Re-posted message from the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism)

The release of 90,000 secret U.S. military files by the whistleblower website Wikileaks, in its broadest context, reveals that the Obama administration and the Pentagon brass have been and still are fully aware that they are not only losing the war in Afghanistan, but also have no possibility of winning.

The documents present a powerful indictment against the Pentagon, the Obama administration and the Bush administration for their failure to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan. They provide documentary evidence of the killing of hundreds and perhaps thousands of civilians by U.S. and NATO troops.

The files reveal that the Pentagon set up a secret commando unit called Task Force 373 that is nothing other than a death squad. Task Force 373, made up of Army and Navy Special Operatives, is seeking to assassinate individuals from an assembled list of 2,000 targets.

And despite rosy-sounding publicity missives coming from the Pentagon, the information released on Wikileaks shows an obvious pattern of intensifying bomb attacks against U.S. and NATO forces.

The decision by the Obama administration to send 60,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in 2009 is exposed as nothing other than a decision to send more human beings to their death in an ongoing war that cannot be won, so as to avoid taking the political responsibility for a military setback. That is the rule that all U.S. policymakers abide by. No matter what, they must avoid the appearance of military defeat at the hands of an armed resistance.

The White House condemned the release of the classified documents in the most disingenuous and hypocritical way. It denounced those who provided the files for putting “the lives of U.S. and partner service members at risk.” That is turning reality upside down. It is the Obama administration that is putting the lives of U.S. service members and Afghan civilians “at risk” every day by continuing a war just so that it can avoid the political backlash for suffering a defeat on its watch.

The released documents paint a grim picture that is repeated over and over again involving a large number of previously unknown incidents where U.S. and NATO troops shot and murdered unarmed drivers and motorcyclists.

The documents reveal another incident where French troops used machine guns to strafe a bus full of children in 2008. A military patrol machine gunned another bus, wounding or killing 15 of its civilian passengers. In 2007, Polish troops rained mortar fire down on an Afghan village, killing a wedding party, including pregnant women, in a revenge attack for an earlier insurgent assault.

In April of this year, Wikileaks published the now-famous classified video of a U.S. Apache helicopter murdering 12 Iraqi civilians and seriously wounding children. The Pentagon arrested Bradley Manning, a 22-year-old intelligence analyst in Iraq and has been holding him incommunicado in recent months. Wikileaks has not disclosed whether Manning was the source of the leak of the classified video or the recently released documents, but has announced that it will help provide legal assistance for Bradley Manning.

For months now, the web of lies spun by the White House and Pentagon about the Afghan war has started to come undone. Public support for the Afghan war, along with support from inside the military ranks, continues to decline. But it will take a resurgent anti-war movement to convert this latent frustration into a powerful political force that can finally bring the criminal occupation to an end.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Podcast: My Conversation With the National Youth Federation for Development in Haiti

Fighting for Haiti by aus10

Recently, I had a conversation with Ernst Louis and Gilles Sassine of the Haitian grassroots organization, National Youth Federation for Development. Ernst, Gilles and their colleagues were among the first responders after the disaster beginning 2 hours after the earthquake in January that took the lives of over 200,000 people. Founded in 2004, the organization is currently managing 50 camps in Haiti serving over 147,000 people. They need our help to raise financial and material resources for their camps as the threat of a new hurricane season this summer could totally devastate Haiti if proper precautions are not taken immediately. Please, listen to this podcast and get involved. You can find the facebook page of the National Youth Federation by clicking here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Former Angolan Liberation Party, Struggles to Meet Social Expectations

As a youth, I was tremendously inspired by the story of Angola's struggle against Western imperialism. Lead by the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), Angola won its independence but suffered from decades of a civil war fomented by the U.S. and apartheid South Africa. A large part of their mystique was a commitment, not just to independence, but to transforming Angolan society and investing in the social development of the nation's people. Angola was a Portuguese colony from the end of the 16th century until it achieved independence in 1975 through armed struggle. Colonial rule had neglected any focus on health care, education, or food sovereignty. How has the MPLA done after 35 years of political independence?

Today, Angola's civil war has ended and the MPLA remains the dominant party in the country. But it no longer remains the popular radical nationalist party it once was. Angola is rich in mineral resources and one of Africa's biggest exporters of oil however, the majority of the popular classes live in poverty and are excluded from the economic boom of the past few years. The export-oriented development model in Angola has generated enormous amounts of new wealth in the country but imports almost all of its food and basic medical supplies. The MPLA is currently working to meet the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals, which include dramatically improving the lives of the poor in the areas of health, income, and education.

The video below is an inside account of life in Angola and the unresolved social development needs in the capital city of Luanda.

Angola from Nacho Salgado on Vimeo.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Are We Headed Toward Another Food Crisis?

Two years ago African countries erupted into massive protests following dramatic increases in the price of food. Now, economists are predicting that financial speculation is on the verge of causing yet another episode of food price inflation. Are governments prepared to respond to the potential social crisis? If they aren't are existing social and political forces prepared to hold them accountable?

Fashionably Counter-Revolutionary

There is absolutely no reason to be hopeless about Africa's future. We have seen in history how organized masses of people working toward the same aims can quickly change their society despite great odds. However, there is also nothing happening in the continent that should make us wildly optimistic about the potential of sweeping change under the status-quo either. Movements in Africa today are fragmented where they exist and NGO's have crowded out the spaces where radical trade unions, student associations and peasant organizations should be. Political leaders across the continent are stooges of foreign economic and military powers and the ideological choices in elections range from moderately conservative to neofascist. Voting in most African countries is roughly the equivalent of choosing between Ronald Reagan and General Francisco Franco of Spain.

I have noticed a pattern among African descendants in the United States, who share an affinity with Africa's people, to respond to the deteriorating situation of religious and ethnic conflict, economic inequality and foreign militarization by overstating progress in other areas such as cultural expression or growing consumer classes. The FIFA World Cup in South Africa is another profound opportunity to exaggerate both. Here we have a very vivid case study of well intentioned individuals making mountains out of molehills in a country where the majority of the population suffers under the tight grip of domestic elites and foreign capitalist interests.

The same African National Congress (ANC) which famously won elections and ushered in liberal democracy in 1994 is today celebrated as helping build a rainbow nation with the African continent's most shining success story. In reality, the first democratic elections in South Africa's history effectively ended centuries of white political rule but maintained the deeply unequal structure of the political economy. The only difference was this time multinational corporations helped create what author Moeletsi Mbeki, says is “a new class of rich blacks, many of them ANC politicians and former politicians," that "support the perpetuation of the migrant labour system and South Africa’s continued reliance on mineral exports.” The rhetoric of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) after apartheid allowed elites within the ANC to enrich themselves by serving as a political buffer between the black masses and the ruthless machinations of the capitalist system its self.

Today, participants in the former national liberation struggle with the ANC are among the most articulate critics of the "black empowerment" schemes that only benefit a few well positioned black political elites and leave the black majority begging for crumbs. Activists in Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and South African Communist Party (SACP) have in recent months organized vocal campaigns against crony capitalism and corruption in the state bureaucracy and, for the first time in the last two decades, have questioned the logic of neo-liberal capitalist management of the economy. Even more antagonistic toward the social and economic policies of South Africa's political leadership, the grassroots Anti-Privatization Forum and Abahlali baseMjondolo, the South African shackdwellers' movement, have consistently resisted the ANC's policies. The later group organized their own sports event in opposition to this year's World Cup in South Africa.
This Poor People's World Cup is organized, because we feel that we are excluded from the FIFA World Cup 2010. We see that the government has put enormous amounts of money in Greenpoint Stadium and in upgrading Althone stadium, but we as poor communities don’t benefit from all of these investments. The soccer matches will be played in town, but we don’t have tickets or transport to go there. Besides this, the FIFA World Cup has negatively impacted our communities as we are not allowed to trade near stadiums, fan parks and other tourist areas any more. The poor are not only evicted from their trading spaces for the World Cup, we are also evicted from our homes and relocated to the TRA’s, such as Blikkiesdorp, far away from the centre and from job opportunities and from the eyes of the tourists.
The voices of social movements and left political parties are seldom represented in the dominant media discourse about Africa. During the World Cup these voices were even more marginalized. Take for example, an article published in the lead up to the World Cup praising the supposed "democratization" and "growth in foreign investment" in the continent.
After a year hobbled by the global slowdown, Africa is quietly preparing for a growth trajectory that could astonish the world. Its popular image is still the same: hunger; corruption; war; poverty. But take another look. Beyond the stereotypes, Africa’s potential is explosive. Its human talents, its vast natural resources, its rising democracies and new technologies – all are reaching a tipping point that could send it surging dramatically upward.
The article continues by predictably listing South Africa as an example of the continent's recent successes. The piece juxtaposes Africa's past liberation movements to the new and "ultimately more important", ( to steal a phrase from Obama), capitalist reforms.
Under apartheid, Soweto was notorious as a place of rebellion and violence. The sprawling black township was the site of the 1976 uprising that ignited the final battle against the apartheid system. But many of its two million inhabitants today are middle-class consumers, and savvy entrepreneurs are recognizing it as a place to make money.
As many well-to-do Africans begin celebrating their droves of new "middle-class consumers, and savvy entrepreneurs" the unintended consequences of un-restrained economic boom are relegated to the margins of the discussion just as are the chief victims of its excesses. Africa's economic boom is exclusively driven by the extraction of oil and strategic mineral resources. Competition over the wealth generated is fueling resource wars (Congo, Sierre Leone) and rent-seeking (Nigeria, Guinea Conakry) in the continent that thrives in an atmosphere of political instability and regional inequities.

Yes, the expanded exploitation of the continent's natural resources has led to the creation of new middle-classes in Africa, but this process has been accompanied with ever worsening social conditions among the popular classes. For example, the aforementioned post-apartheid South Africa has witnessed black political elites living luxuriously off of the country's mineral wealth while the poor majority remains mired in desperate poverty and exploitation. South African author and brother of a former president, Moeletsi Mbeki has written at length about how the white owners of the capitalist economy in South Africa protected themselves from revolution by offering top black political officials billions of dollars worth of shares in multinational corporations.

Too many well-intentioned individuals give their tacit support to some of the most reactionary leaders in the world in an effort to believe something good is happening in Africa. The biggest African success story of the last 20 years is the fact that the workers, peasants and shack-dwellers of the continent have been able to survive day-to-day under the most relentless neo-colonial plundering in the entire planet. Their strength and determination to live under conditions of abject poverty and corruption is a legitimate reason to be hopeful. As global powers loot strategic mineral resources for military weapons and consumer goods where are the consistent voices opposing that project inside the belly of the beast? In a way, we empower this status-quo when we engage Africa in order to be cultural satisfied and then quietly resume our lives as if the continent has not witnessed the deaths of millions in imperial conquests for profit.

Instead of looking to claim victories that don't exist, concerned individuals should encourage and support organized movements of the popular classes in political struggle. Only a fundamental transformation of society under the leadership of grassroots social forces can the cycle of poverty and ruthless exploitation come to an end in Africa. Anything less by proclaimed supporters of the continent's people is simply fashionably counter-revolutionary.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Guinea Conakry and the Meaning of Democratic Reform

The colonially engineered nation-state of Guinea in West Africa has faced decades of authoritarian leadership and ethnic conflict ever since independence from French-rule in 1958. After a coup led by Moussa Dadis Camara in 2008, there was much enthusiasm about a break with that past. Then, on a day which will live in infamy, September 28, 2009, a protest against Camara's military junta turned violent when at least a hundred and fifty-six people were shot dead and women gang-raped in the streets. You can see and hear an audio slide-show in the New Yorker on the history. A video of the ensuing political crisis is below.

Today, Guinea is headed for a reportedly "free, transparent and credible" election on June 27, 2010, that will usher in a civilian controlled government. A list of presidential front-runners in the election are already announced. The Guinean military has sworn that it will not interfere in the election process. A Guinean diplomat happily told Reuters,"for now, the army has remained out of the political process."

But is it really possible? Has Guinea, after years of brutal dictatorship finally entered into the paradise of a Western approved multiparty democracy? A timely analysis in Foreign Policy magazine warns that transition from military to civilian rule will in no way challenge Guinea's kleptocracy (rule by thieves)---a system in which multinationals and elites work with the military behind the scenes to ensure the safe extraction of resources.
"No one doubts that the military, through its affiliated networks of businessmen and political allies, will continue to overshadow the running of any elected regime. Guinea is the world's largest bauxite exporter and home to vast iron ore deposits, and possibly even oil reserves -- all of which the military is keenly aware."
The challenge therefore is to understand just how much democracy Guineans can expect after the polls on the 27th? If a sign of democracy is how much Guinea's people directly share in the fruits of the nation's wealth, signs are so far not looking positive. After all, the free-flow of Guinea's mineral resources in past have not in anyway improved the social and economic lives of the country's majority poor population. According to U.S. sources, when economic growth rose slightly in 2006-08, due to increases in global demand and commodity prices on world markets the standard of living fell. Guinea remains among the poorest countries in the world despite its rich natural resources.

Another historical problem in Guinea is the habit among the state to utilize political violence against opposition movements and political parties (often along ethnic-lines). And while a transition to a nominally civilian government represents the opportunity for a serious change, the amount continuing military intrusion in economic and political affairs is a warning sign. The Foreign Policy article lists the continuing influence of the military as a warning sign for future violence along ethnic or religious lines.
"Most alarmingly, serious splits have emerged within military circles. Last year, Camara brought in Israeli mercenaries to train as many as 10,000 new recruits for the army. They came mostly from Camara's ethnic Geurzé tribe in the isolated Forestiere region....Over the last few weeks, ethno-religious clashes have killed several people in Forestiere amid fears that Camara may be stirring up trouble ahead of the polls."
I recently listened to a piercing analysis in a Brecht forum podcast on Western military and judicial influence in the African continent. One speaker noted toward the end of the discussion the fact that forms of natural resource extraction conspicuously match political structures in Africa. Guinea is a text-book case of this phenomena even during significant moments of regime change as we are about to witness later this month. What does democratic reform mean in a state like Guinea where the political structure is configured for the cheap extraction of the country's mineral resources rather than endogenous social development of its citizens?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Elections Without Democracy in Ethiopia?

Ethiopians have recently finished voting at the electoral polls in a parliamentary election that was widely held as a test of the country's multiparty democracy. Despite ethnic violence, conflicts with neighboring Somalia and Eritrea and accusations of political repression, the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front and Menes Zelawi, the current prime minister, are expected to win big in the election. Zelawi is one of the U.S.'s closest allies in the 'War on Terrorism'. In keeping with the norm of African elections, the ballot box will not likely deliver any sweeping political changes internally or in foreign relations.

Was the election a sign of internal political legitimacy for the EPRD and continuity?

Opposition parties are claiming foul play but the alternatives are either addressing grievances through the courts or violent confrontation with the ruling party. Have things become some bad here that a peaceful but flawed election is the most one can hope for? As usual Al Jazeera has had great coverage of the electoral proceedings and their implications.

The U.S. Military Drags West Africa into 'War on Terror'

After decades of CIA assassinations, U.S.-supported coups and subversive interference during the Cold War in Africa, one would think that West African political leaders would run at the thought of another geo-political chess match in their own territories. But slowly and gracefully, the U.S. 'War on Terrorism', has been able to submit the continent to yet another round of imperial strategem with very little organized internal political opposition.

The U.S. military is training soldiers in West Africa for a potential confrontation with "jihadists" under the new U.S. Africa Command. The stated objective of the recent mobilizations is to prepare for confrontation with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The group is unlikely an existential threat to West African governments, is small in number compared to other violent criminal organizations and has so far only managed to kidnap foreigners and extort money. Partly due to the aggressive and often draconian work of their security forces, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, have already prevented the organization from operating in their territories. There is also no public evidence to suggest the group serves as a direct threat to the U.S.

Despite their infamous name and the constant fear-mongering in the Western press, the organization likely uses the name al-Qaeda for recruiting and fundraising purposes only as opposed to having any lasting ties with cells in Afghanistan/Pakistan. Nevertheless, the U.S. is mobilizing the armies of Mauritania, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Nigeria for a protracted conflict with the organization.

Political leaders in West Africa are probably doing more harm than good by accepting the U.S. label of the region as a wellspring of jihadist terrorism. As we have seen in Iraq and Somalia, U.S.-backed military operations are often the principal cause of violent political terrorism and recruiting activity rather than a force for peace and social justice. In regions with large conservative Muslim populations the influx of America forces and assistance is among the top recruiting tools for new converts to the cause of political Islam. Certainly, an objective assessment of the American track record in the aforementioned cases among others should have caused alarm among government's participating in AFRICOM'S recent mobilizations. However, political elites in this region draw their legitimacy among top the military brass and petty-bourgeois intellectuals from receiving external aid from the United States and European Union. With the incoming military and financial support elites are able to crack down on internal opposition movements and consolidate their own political authority regardless of the long-term consequences.

Armed robbery and kidnapping conducted to extract ransom is not unique to al-Qaeda in West Africa. There are any number of violent drug cartels, rebel groups and other criminals in the region who exploit the vacuum of political legitimacy, and grinding poverty in order to advance this or that cause. The ideals of regional autonomy and national sovereignty have suffered so much in West Africa that because the least organized of such groups happens to be a potential threat to U.S. interests, government's are responding as if preparing for a full-scale war.

It was not long ago that the United States utilized political Islam and al-Qaeda extremists in a struggle against the Soviet Union and secular nationalists movements in North Africa and the Middle-East. The same networks and ideologies that West African governments are being paid to chase throughout the Saharan desert, were empowered in the first place by the U.S. State Department, CIA and Pentagon. Unfortunately, for the majority of the poor and formally unemployed people in West Africa the region is once again employed in another of the U.S.'s adventures.

Whereas China and other countries have sought to increase their influence in Africa through mainly political and economic means, the United States and European Union have estimated that their strategic advantage lies in a combination of economic assistance and military strength as it did during the Cold War. The clear parallel between the current U.S. strategy of establishing client-states today to the Cold War in the 20th century were outlined by U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates who argued in a recent article in Foreign Affairs that American military and economic assistance rather than full-scale invasions is the most effective way to expand its strategic influence.
"Building up the military and security forces of key allies and local partners was also a major component of U.S. strategy in the Cold War, first in Western Europe, then in Greece, South Korea, and elsewhere."
The triumph of AFRICOM in West Africa is perhaps one of the most striking indicators that the independence movements of 50 years ago achieved little to nothing in the area of self-government or regional autonomy. The so called independent democratic regimes in this region have literally become client-states of the United States and European Union completely dependent on the economic and military support of their patrons. There remains hope that a growing social and political movement can challenge the attempt to drag the poor into another U.S.-conflict and put the region on an endogenous path of social development against poverty, hunger, and disease.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

In Africa, the Hypocrisy of the Obama Administration is Inexcusable

The United States fears Africa is becoming a place of increasing competition from China mostly, but also Brazil, Russia, and the European Union. African countries like Angola or Zimbabwe who were once forced to depend on the patronage of the IMF and World Bank are less dependent on America's hegemonic financial institutions than anytime in the last 20 years. The growing complexity of actors has opened the possibility of greater independence in national economic and social policy-making in African countries from the dictates of Washington D.C. With the threat of increased competition and the level of oil imports from Africa going up as much 20 percent, the U.S. is engaging in its most extensive imperial quests in Africa since the end of the Cold War.Ironically, this assault is advancing under the leadership of one of Africa's own "sons", U.S. President Barack Obama.

Hiding behind the rhetoric of limited government and individual liberties, the United States is protecting some of the most repressive regimes in the world. The Obama administration is intensifying President Bush's plan to militarily support anti-democratic regimes throughout the continent. These regimes are responsible for grave human rights violations and widespread persecution of political and national minorities according to prominent Western human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The ridiculous level of hypocrisy in U.S. foreign policy proves that the Obama administration is concerned neither with human rights or participatory democracy but stability against any actor that could potentially threaten their perceived political and economic interests. Eritrea, a small East African nation that shares a contentious border with Ethiopia, has refused to support a U.S. war in the Horn of Africa and reportedly rejected a demand from the U.S. military to host a U.S. base in the Red Sea port of Assab off its coast. Eritrea's intransigence earned it a spot on the U.S. terrorist list. The Obama administration froze existing ties with Eritrea and claimed that the "government acted as a principal source and conduit for arms to antigovernment, extremist, and insurgent groups in Somalia." The Eritrean government vehemently denies supporting such groups. Meanwhile, the same Obama administration has increased military funding by more than 300 per cent for African countries that support its foreign policy aims including Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Djibouti, Ethiopia, Equitorial Guinea, Algeria and Nigeria. Each of these governments are infamously known for exceptional corruption and state repression against political opponents.

The hypocrisy of the Obama administration does not end with military intervention. The administration has also teamed up with billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates to extend U.S. influence and guarantee multinational corporate access to African agricultural markets. Their strategy is to maintain leverage in African affairs by creating new systems of aid dependency for U.S. technical and financial support in the area of food production. In this way the administration approaches aid as an issue of national security. The interests of the U.S. military, multinational corporations and aid NGO's intersect as the three groups meet to share talking points and communication strategies. Their latest gimmick is $408 million for a World Bank fund to encourage "good" farming practices in the developing world. However, as Mukoma Wa Ngugi of Pambazuka news points out, the reason why so many African's go hungry in a global economy of abundance is not for a lack of "free" markets or U.S. aid but the existing neo-colonial models of political economy in African countries that maintain unequal social relations.
"Hunger in Africa is mostly a political and economic disparity problem. To end hunger, political stability, proper distribution of food and land within nations, and less emphasis on cash-crop farming and more on food- crop farming will be more effective, friendlier to the environment and less costly than the super-seeds that will require tons of pesticides - and eventually, cost a lot of money."
With Barack Obama as the chief spokesman, the U.S. government is in the midst of a major public relations campaign to re-brand themselves as a partner of African countries rather than an imperial power. This shift is mostly in response to the failures of the World Bank and IMF's unpopular structural adjustment programs that imposed ruthless neo-liberal conditions on the re-payment of loans and led to a backlash in the form of renewed calls for national sovereignty. However, this new American re-branding effort should not be confused with a genuine attempt to re-start U.S.-Africa relations on equal terms. The conditions of U.S. bilateral partnership in the form of technical and financial assistance are not limited to specific development projects but amount to a sophisticated form of blackmail with the U.S. interfering in the way government's run their internal politics and manage their economies.

The most notorious example of this form of blackmail is no where more obvious than through a bilateral development fund known as the Millennium Challenge Account. The completely biased conditions for financial support from the account include "economic freedom" and "civil liberties" as defined by far right-wing think tanks like the U.S. Heritage Foundation. Smaller, cash-strapped African countries like Senegal, are particularly vulnerable to this scheme being forced to 'behave' in a manner that is acceptable to conservatives in the U.S. in exchange for aid.

In the final analysis, U.S. strategists fear that the further waning of their exclusive post-Cold War influence will impinge on long-term economic and political "interests" in Africa, which include unlimited access to natural resources and markets for U.S. goods. Therefore, the Obama administration is determined to put more financial resources into promoting a balance of power more favorable to its interests with proxy military initiatives and Trojan Horse development aid designed to promote dependency on the U.S. At the same time, the administration is deceptively using the rhetoric of partnership and mutuality to provide cover for African elites allied with the interests of the U.S. military, foreign investors and multinational corporations. There is no amount of Kenyan heritage that should absolve Barack Obama and his administration of responsibility for intensifying the scourge of U.S. imperialism in Africa. For a man who is quick to preach personal responsibility in front of large audiences of black Americans and continental Africans, Obama should hold himself accountable for the actions of his administration under his watch.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Fascinating Internal Politics and History of Yemen

The U.S. is waging two major wars at once (one is the longest war in U.S. history) and indirectly managing conflicts in several other countries in central asia and the middle-east. Need I not mention here how tragically dismissive of human life these extended campaigns have been, even to the point of jeopardizing the imperial mission its self. After the attempted bombing of a U.S. flight into Detroit, Yemen received a lot of press attention for allegedly providing the safe haven where a Nigerian attempted underwear bomber was armed. Since then, one can scarcely find a mention of the vitally important country of Yemen and the U.S. military's support for an immoral counter-insurgency campaign that is destroying the lives of countless people whose only crime is an unyielding desire for survival. Not only is Yemen's government committing violent atrocities against its own people and denying basic civil liberties, but it is doing so with military weapons and money from that eternal beacon of liberty and hope known as the U.S. government.

Beyond the external geopolitics of Yemen is a really interesting story of internal conflict and struggles for self-determination and social justice. These internal dramas are often sucked-up by global struggles for hegemony, but remain important to the fate of the middle-east region as a whole. Author and activist Tariq Ali recently wrote an amazing narrative of his recent trip to Yemen and a brief history of its politics. I'm sharing it here because his piece is a rare opportunity to put a human face on a country that has become another chess piece in America's wasted march for "victory".
Yemen is a proper country, unlike the imperial petrol stations dotted across other parts of the Arabian Peninsula, where the ruling elites live in hurriedly constructed skyscrapers designed by celebrity architects, flanked by shopping malls displaying every Western brand, and serviced by wage-slaves from South Asia and the Philippines. Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, was founded when the Old Testament was still being written, edited and collated. It’s true that the new Mövenpick hotel in the heart of the city’s diplomatic enclave is reminiscent of Dubai at its worst – when I was there it was pushing its Valentine’s Day Dinner Menu – but in Yemen the elite is careful and doesn’t flaunt its wealth. Click here to read the rest of Ali's article in the London Review of Books.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sudan and Democratization in Africa

If you randomly drew a name of an African country from a hat and chose Sudan, you would have a pretty decent sample of the issues facing other large countries in the continent. Sudan is representative of the ethnic/ religious conflicts, natural resource dependency, and immense divide between urban and rural areas that make the process of democratization, as defined by the West, onerous if not inconceivable. This week, Sudan is in the process of voting in multi-party national elections for the first time in more than 20 years. Two of the major opposition parties have dropped out of the race, but outside election observers like former U.S. President Jimmy Carter think the vote can be free and fair.

However, underlying questions remain about the election process and the expected results. Al Jazeera reported on irregularities at several polling stations and the perception among opposition parties that the outcome will be illegitimate in the final analysis. Furthermore, the National Electoral Commission in Sudan has undermined the credibility of the entire process by breaching the standards of Sudan's own election Act. Hafiz Mohammed from Making Sense of Sudan, writes the following list to spell out the faults of the NEC to date,

- By bringing forward the date at which any candidate supposed to withdraw his/her candidateship by one month from the 12 of March to the 12 of April without any justification.

- The accepted back the candidateships of SPLM candidates for the National Assembly from South Kordofan , after they withdraw them within the legal time frame, which was because the NCP and SPLM agreed to that, although it was a clear breach of the law.

- Many of the polling station staff are members of the NCP, and some are from the neighbourhood popular committees which are totally controlled by the NCP.

- Allowing the certificates from the popular committee to be used as source of identification for voters, without using any extra document, has been common. That a clear breach of their own rules, and opens the gate to frauds. That is clear in many polling stations, in the first day of voting as, some NCP members are sitting near to the polling station issuing certificate to allow people to vote without any further checks.
- Most of the people chosen as local observers are members of the NCP, and that also clear violation of the rules as people are not allowed to be monitors if they are member of a political party or support any candidate election campaign.

- The language the NEC is using to respond to any complaint from other political parties is just an imitation of the NCP leaders’ language, so that they are seen as taking sides in the ongoing political dispute between the NCP and other political parties. That led other political parties passing a vote of no confidence on it.
What the elections in Sudan teach us is that procedural democracy is not a magic bullet. Elections alone can't resolve all of the historical and institutional contradictions facing territorially large African nations like Sudan. And while we may hope otherwise, there is no evidence that democracy with African characteristics can ever flourish without striking at the roots of internal conflict. That being said, the elections at hand are vital for short-term peace and reconciliation in Sudan. Though imperfect, the elections are a first step toward the necessary "deracializing civil society, detribalizing the Native Authority, and developing the economy in the context of unequal international relations", which Sudan and other large African countries have so far failed to accomplish.

For the first time in 25 years, there are enough Sudanese power brokers and citizens who are ready to give peace a chance.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Will the Real Pan-Africanists Please Stand-Up?

Senegal's president Abdoulaye Wade calls him self a Pan-Africanist. He offered to give land to Haitians who lost their homes in the recent earth quake. In April, he will unveil a new statue dedicated to what he calls the "African Renaissance". However, Wade's policies of neo-liberal privatization, demagoguery against his political opponents and his outrageous attempts to win the favor of foreign investors and Western presidents are the polar opposite of what revolutionary leaders discussed at the 6th Pan-African Congress, when the last wave of African liberation movements were struggling against neo-colonialism. Wade, and the other presidents who share similarly right-wing visions for Africa, are impotent against ramped corruption and extreme ethnic and religious violence happening in Africa today. The major reason why is that their visions of Pan-Africanism or African Renaissance draw their strength from the institutional foundations of neo-colonialism.

During European colonialism, traditional or customary ethnic and religious identities were politically exaggerated by racists to legitimize their own dominance in Africa. Colonizers realized early on that by capitalizing on the cultural and historical Native Authorities of rural Africa they could put a local face on external domination and pit traditional factions against one another. This system of indirect rule thrived in an atmosphere of "divide and conquer" where ruthless competition between identities for a piece of the pie kept colonialism in tact. Even after the European powers, exhausted by World War II, decided to grant political independence to their colonies, many African countries chose to maintain the same colonial-type institutions that politicized ethnic and religious differences.

Today, ethnic and religious groups in rural Africa desperately jostle for political authority or economic gains from mineral riches, fertile lands, and increasingly scarce water resources. Far from the romanticized conceptions of African Renaissance with aborigines beating tom-toms, dancing half-naked, and eating mangos, over half of rural Africa is consumed by ruthless competitions between extremely poor people organizing on essentialist conceptions of their identities. Armed with automatic machine guns, machetes, or voting ballots these groups fight to protect the interests of the friends who worship as they worship or the distant cousins who can their bio-cultural origins to a common ancestor, all while working to eliminate competitors. These remarkably static conceptions of identity are not natural but the result of very specific political cultures that emerged as a result of Western social engineering.

The current un-governability and divisiveness of much of rural Africa plays directly into the hands of Western economic powers who take more than their fair share of Africa's wealth. On the one hand, the historical fragmentation of the post-colonial state along ethnic or religious lines has prevented the emergence of national, broad-based political and social movements that can demand fast-track redistribution of lands and mineral wealth to the countryside. As we have seen in the unfolding "Bolivarian Revolution" in Latin America, the U.S. government believes that the ultimate challenge to domination of its "own backyard" is national democratic and popular alliances organized around distributional rather than nativist political cultures.

More importantly, in keeping with classical liberal economics, imperialists (governments who actively support or practice the act of imperalism) benefit from a central government that is too weak to regulate multinational corporations in remote areas where the raw mineral resources being extracted or to ensure the revenues from the resources are being taxed to fund public services. A central African government that is constantly threatened by ego-tripping rebels scrambling for power or working to satisfy the interests of religious brotherhoods is an enthusiastic customer for military weapons sales or potential dependent on aid.

There were radical nationalists like Julius Nyere, Kwame Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral and Samora Machel who explicitly attempted to de-legitimize Native Authority and unite the most oppressed sectors of their countries under national liberation movements for social and economic justice. These leaders originally mobilized heterogeneous movements in solidarity that could dismantle the institutions of colonial rule and isolate traditional African elites who empowered them. Furthermore, they advocated the direct takeover of the commanding heights of the economy including the technologies responsible for the extraction of strategic natural resources and agricultural production---a step taken to ensure as broad a program of poverty eradication as possible. The combination of these two events resulted in direct confrontations with the combined forces of Western military might and economic isolation but also internal opposition from conservative Native Authorities. After the implosion of the Soviet Union and de-radicalization of Communist China these rebellious African regimes lost their main sources of technical and financial assistance.

Despite their eventual defeat, radical nationalists in Africa did leave behind one major victory---national political identity. For example, Tanzania is among the few territorially large African countries that has not seen essentialist identity politics spill-over into extreme violent conflict. Ugandan political scientist Mahmood Mamdani has spoken about the nationalist legacy of Julius Nyere in Tanzania pointing out, "the success of Tanzania as a nation that is getting it right the continent is because the nation's erstwhile leader, Julius Nyerere, during his tenure dismantled the customary law, thereby making every one a Tanzanian citizen." Radical nationalism sought to do the very difficult task of changing rural dwellers perceptions about political legitimacy.

The demonization of African leaders who supported "left-wing" political views and policies that emphasized economic sovereignty and sweeping agrarian transformation of society always takes outside of the context of contemporary African politics where genocide and religious fundamentalism exist side-by-side with crippling social injustices. And when discussing genocide and religious fundamentalism, the exact inverse is true. Commentary on violent ethnic or religious factions are taken out of the context of a documented imperialist strategy of neutralizing any political movement that sought to unite citizens under bold agendas for radical social change.

I am involved with the Pan-African Youth Summit 2010 in Dakar that is trying to organize a new coalition of grassroots "left" organizations united in the reconstruction of a legitimate Pan-African movement. The term "left" is necessary in this case to distinguish between Pan-Africanists who believe the driving force of progressive change is the most oppressed and exploited members of society from those who believe traditional elites and politicians can deliver that change. Without the emergence of broad-based popular alliances organized around agrarian reform and a government that can provide widespread social protections, Africa will likely continue to have scenes of discriminate carnage and extreme poverty. I hope that my African friends and allies will answer the challenge. Africa is in need of a revolution, not a renaissance.


1. Mahmood Mamdani. Citizen and Subject- Chapter Eight Conclusion: Linking the Urban and the Rural

2. Sam Moyo and Paris Yoros. The Resurgence of Radical Nationalism in the South Atlantic

Sunday, February 21, 2010

World Scientific Development in 2010

"Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society."
- Albert Einstein, May 1949

Scientific and technological advancement have always been the throttle for human knowledge creation and social development. According to a report in the New Scientist, nations in the Third World are beginning to crack the supremacy of Europe and America in the field of modern science and technology--- yet another ominous sign of decline in the Global North.

Out of all of the world's regions, only "North American scientific output has grown 'considerably slower' than the world as a whole." Europe was able to avoid this through greater cross-collaboration with Asia. For its part, "Asia is becoming the world leader in science". And, in the midst of a public relations campaign to isolate Iran as a Islamic fundamentalist dictatorship, Iran is showing the fastest rate of scientific development of any country in the world.

One great way to measure the trajectory of any society in the 21st century is by its ability to make significant advances in the sciences. The U.S. is beginning to lag behind, which is not good for a global economy largely dependent on the American political-economic system to prosper. However, the problem of scientific advancement in America is part of a much larger political, social, and ecological crisis. These crises can be summarized as the crisis of private capital that I discussed in my last post, and one of the great scientists of all time Albert Einstein argued in this famous piece.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Economic Recovery? No. Economic Transformation? Absolutely

The State of the Planet is an important conference March 25, in New York City hosted by the Earth Institute, of Columbia University. The Earth Institute is one of the rare organizations that actually understands the interconnection between the environment, the economy, and society; their research is eye-opening. This year's conference, held every two years, is apparently going to center around the core issues of "climate change, poverty and economic recovery". The first two agenda items, climate change and poverty, make absolute sense in the context of sustainable development but what about "economic recovery"?

Morally, there is nothing about the old economic system that should be continued into the next decade of the 21st century. If the global economy was to be 'recovered' in the state it was before the recession began, we would also be returning to a very destructive and polarizing development model that has been anything but sustainable.The process of unchallenged economic growth was the greatest driver of man-made ecological disaster in world history. Rapid economic development which, technocrats would like to return to, has also actually generated poverty in much of the Third World. The old neo-liberal model of economic growth was excluding an increasingly large proportion of poor farmers from access to use of the land, modern technology and then driving peasants into deprived shanty towns with no economic opportunity.

Conventional economists have not yet conceded that the most recent process of economic growth was inherently unsustainable and had disastrous ecological and human consequences . Even the most progressive theoreticians are only calling for minor regulatory reforms of the banking industry, and market-oriented carbon trading schemes. However, we will never move toward the path of sustainable development until we address our severe dependence on private sector investment or capital in the production process. Because our society is reliant on private investors to create new jobs and consumer goods, the will to act on global warming and extreme poverty is restricted to the narrow bottom-lines and cost-cutting strategies of big business rather than human compassion and reason. Private investors, who have the financial resources we believe we need to change course, refuse to pour their money into any venture from which they cannot gain short-term economic profits; this is true regardless of the potentially apocalyptic ramifications later down the road.

The alternative is to work toward a new cooperative economic model where production is motivated by the drive for scientific discovery and compassion for both other human beings and the natural environment. When the conventional economists say economic recovery ,we should demand economic transformation, and remind them of the creative destruction the last 30 years of "growth" brought us. Future generations will judge us with outrage if we do not.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Another U.S. is Necessary

For several decades the global economy has been surging beyond the stage of industrial capitalism into an uncharted era of post-industrial capitalism. None of the world's economists or politicians know exactly what kind of system can replace the labor-intensive, industrial model of economic growth that defined global capitalism for centuries. The financial sector was promoted as the answer to the enigma but the recent economic collapse has driven that theory into a foxhole. The representative institutions of democratic government were designed to support the old economic growth model. Now the usually stable Western democracies are in a serious political crisis unable to respond to the complex social, ecological and demographic changes taking place. In the past, the rapid economic growth and easily available credit lines were enough to keep the majority of the U.S. and European consumer populations in stasis. This is increasingly not the case. Unfortunately, though the political crisis has created a re-emergence of the political far-right in the U.S., and Europe as people cling to traditional racial or religious hierarchies for social security.

All hope is not lost however. A vibrant global justice movement in the U.S. is vital toward dismantling the uneven development and ecological destruction of the third world. As the most technologically advanced and capitalized society major events in America affect the future of the human race and environment more than any other single global actor. The economic crisis, while crippling for most poor and working-class American families, presents a unique opportunity to envision a new economic, political, and environmental relationship with the third world and each other. The U.S. Social Forum in June of this year, will attempt to bring together thousands of activists, organizers, advocates and change agents determined to transform American society and our interactions with the rest of the planet. There are always contradictions within any mass movement but the progressive content of the Forum is a potential tidal wave of political change and cooperation as we mature fully into a post-industrial global economy. Detroit, an economically depressed city where the event will take place, is a prime example of the de-industrialization of the U.S. economy and failure of the government to respond.

There was an outpouring of support for Barack Obama's message of change unlike anything ever in my life time. His loosely defined campaign promises for change have not been carried through and the military and financial elites who were in control remain in control. However, the spirit and youthful energy of the campaign can be translated into something real and empowering for those of us hungering for another world. The U.S. Social Forum is the first opportunity we will have to make this vision manifest.