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Author Topic: Debating a continent in conflict  (Read 12132 times)
Posts: 1531

« on: July 12, 2003, 06:49:44 PM »

By Beauregard Tromp The Star

Africa is confronting the wars ravaging its countries at the African Union summit, writes Beauregard Tromp from Maputo.

Conflicts raging across the continent dominate the debate among Africa's leaders gathered here for the second ordinary summit of the African Union.

Africa is for the first time grappling with the wars and massacres which have plagued the continent since independence and sabotaged its growth and develop-ment. But the wars are still outpacing by far the efforts to tackle them.

Mozambican Foreign Minister Leonardo Simao asserted here that the number of conflicts was decreasing. If so, that is a highly relative concept because no less than 11 conflicts are on the agenda.

Two are especially pressing. Officials have received reports that Burundi rebels from the Forces for National Liberation of Agathon Rwasa, fighting the transitional government now headed by fellow Hutu Domitien Ndayizeye, had cut off the capital Bujumbura and were dropping mortars in the city. Government forces bombarded the hills around the city to push back the rebels.

South Africa is at the forefront of ensuring peace and stability in Burundi as part of a 3 500-strong African peacekeeping force. Officials are anxious for the SA forces to be reinforced by proposed contingents from Ethiopia and Mozambique, but a lack of funds is delaying this.

The other urgent crisis is in Liberia, where a fragile ceasefire seems to be all that is preventing rebels from invading the capital, Monrovia. Behind closed doors, officials here expressed strong support for the US to send in forces to prevent the sacking of Monrovia and stabilise the country while peace talks continue.

The officials dismissed objections from Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi to the presence of American troops in Liberia. But Gadaffi himself has meddled heavily in Liberia and other West African countries, and one African official retorted angrily that if Gadaffi did not want the Americans in Libya, he should "pour money into" the fund to get an African peacekeeping force there.

Financing remains one of the biggest obstacles to Africa's efforts to deal with its own conflicts.

South Africa and some west African countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Mali, are about the only countries able and willing to engage in these operations under the auspices of the African Union or its subsidiary bodies such as the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas).

Mali has just decided to send up to 1 500 troops to help maintain the June 17 peace deal signed between the Liberian government and rebels, but it is unlikely to be enough to bring peace and stability.

But SA for one is struggling under the financial burden of its Burundi mission especially, which has so far cost over $180-million (R1,3-billion), of which just $20-million has been funded by donors, according to Dr Jakkie Cilliers, head of the Institute for Security Studies.

He welcomed a proposal here by the European Union's development commissioner Paul Nielsen for EU members to divert 1,5% of their bilateral aid funds into a peacekeeping fund of some E250-million (R2,1-billion) to help finance Africa's own peacekeeping efforts.

But Africa's legal powers are also lacking for aggressive AU inter-vention in conflicts.

This would be available in a Peace and Security Council (PSC), which the AU decided to establish at its founding Durban summit a year ago. On paper, it has substantial powers including the command of an African Standby Force, comprising contingents from various African countries, to intervene in conflicts. It is supposed to be operational by 2005 and fully functional by 2010. There is also discussion about the creation of a Rapid Deployment Force.

Outgoing AU chairman President Thabo Mbeki had over the past year urged his peers to ratify the protocol to establish the PSC so it could be established at this summit, but this will not happen because only 14 countries have ratified the protocol - well short of the minimum of 27. Many countries are dragging their heels because they are concerned about how the PSC would impact on their national sovereignty.

In an apparent reference to them, Mbeki in his address to the opening session of the summit yesterday urged his peers "to place our individual national interests within the context of our continental and collective interests".

The summit is also to discuss another issue important to SA and that is where to locate the proposed Pan African Parliament (PAP). SA is putting in a strong bid against Libya.

Gadaffi is said to have built an impressive structure in Sirte, his hometown, to host this organ but SA and other progressive African countries are concerned at the message the AU would send to the world if it decided to locate the continental parliament in a country that does not respect democracy.

Although Gadaffi is trying to buy the votes by paying the AU membership arrears of many poorer countries, SA is still believed to hold the edge, as it commands the support of regional powers such as Senegal, Nigeria, Algeria and Egypt.

SA Speaker of Parliament Frene Ginwala, who has been lobbying to bring the PAP to SA, is scheduled to address leaders today on the PAP.

The AU was also to readmit Mad-agascar, which was suspended last year because President Marc Ravalomanana was deemed to have seized power unconstitutionally after accus-ing sitting President Didier Ratsirika of rigging elections. The island nation was mooted to host the AU meeting next year. This had not been decided at time of going to press. Some countries opposed the move, saying that Madagascar is too close to France.

A potentially battle for the chair of the AU commission was averted when Cote d'Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo announced that Amara Essy, the interim chairman, was withdrawing from the contest.

His only rival, former Malian president Alpha Konare, has the backing of all the regional powers, but the voting process had threatened to create division, especially among West African states.

Although it is not said openly, SA had long been gunning for Essy and even plotted his removal at the formation of the AU a year ago.

Its position is that the AU should be led by a former head of state. Also, Essy is seen as too close to France and that, coupled with Madagascar potentially being the next host, could give France too much influence.

The election of commissioners to serve with the chairman and vice chairmen as the executive of the AU has also proved contentious. Many countries disputed the agreed rules that half the commissioners should be women. They argued that independent consultants had mostly ranked male candidates as better qualified. But the summit stuck to its original intention that women would have to be equally represented.

SA scored an important victory when the AU decided to postpone for three years the scheduled move of the secretariat of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) from Midrand to Addis Ababa.

SA and most northern countries supporting Nepad fear it will lose its critical independence if it falls into the clutches of the AU Commission - and that moving it now would certainly have killed its momentum.

Published on the web by the Star on July 11, 2003.

Posts: 1531

« Reply #1 on: July 16, 2003, 09:45:09 AM »

By Monica Moorehead

The Bush administration has sent a military team of 32 Marines and specialists to Liberia to assess whether the U.S. should send more troops to this impoverished West African country. The reason given is that they may be necessary to end the civil war that has plagued this country for more than a decade. The real reason is oil.

President George W. Bush has repeatedly said that he will accept nothing less than the departure of the elected president of Liberia, Charles Taylor.

On July 6 Taylor met with the president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, at the airport outside the Liberian capital of Monrovia, where an agreement was made to provide Taylor temporary asylum in Nigeria if he leaves.

Taylor helped to lead a rebellion against the previous Liberian president, Samuel Doe. The rebellion lasted from the late 1980s until the mid 1990s, even though Doe was assassinated in 1990. Taylor was elected president in 1997 and has faced armed opposition to his presidency since 1999.

The real prospect that U.S. troops will be sent to Liberia comes at a time when Bush is on his first trip to Africa. He plans to visit five countries within five days: Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda and Nigeria. South Africa and Botswana are among the countries in the world with the highest percentages of people living with the HIV virus and AIDS.

Bush is using the carrot and stick maneuver, offering billions of dollars in aid to pressure each country to open its markets to U.S. imports and its military and police to collaboration with the U.S. in the so-called war against terrorism. Washington heavily subsidizes U.S. agribusinesses. If African countries were to change their agricultural policies and allow in unlimited quantities of cheap U.S. agricultural products, local farmers would be destroyed.

The U.S. military presence in Africa is more ominous than ever. Rapid deployment troops and semi-permanent forces from the Army, Air Force and Marines are now stationed or will be stationed in the Horn of Africa as well as countries in North and West Africa. A command base with 2,000 troops was established in Djibouti in May.

Lisa Hoffman of Scripps Howard News Service wrote on June 13: "Little noticed among the Pentagon's plans to radically reshape the U.S. military presence overseas is the groundbreaking possibility of basing thousands of American troops in or around West Africa.

"Under discussion: everything from positioning a U.S. aircraft carrier battle group off Africa's vast west coast to establishing one or more forward operating bases in Ghana, Senegal, Mali, Equatorial Guinea or the tiny island nation of Sao Tome and Principe.

"The spurs for what may prove an unprecedented U.S. military beachhead in sub-Saharan Africa are the region's instability, potential attractiveness to terrorists and, most pivotal, its rich oil resources, Pentagon officials and Africa experts say.

"As much as 15 percent of America's oil now comes from West Africa--about the amount imported from Saudi Arabia. By next year, the West African portion is expected to jump to 20 percent."

The U.S. seeks to overtake its European imperialist rivals as the dominant power in areas of Africa where oil is plentiful, like Nigeria.

Nigeria is home to one-fourth of the people living in sub-Saharan Africa. It also has one of the world's largest oil reserves.

The Nigerian people do not control the oil wealth of their country. Big oil conglomerates such as Chevron-Texaco and Shell make tremendous profits exporting millions of barrels of oil from Nigeria to other parts of the world while the Nigerian masses remain extremely poor. The average annual per capita income of Nigeria is only $290.

The Nigerian Labor Congress just organized a powerful general strike against the skyrocketing price of gasoline, which lasted several days before the government offered a compromise.

U.S. and Liberian relations

Liberia's population is less than 4 million people. According to UNICEF August 2002 statistics, the poverty rate is 85 percent and the extreme poverty rate is 55 percent. Per capita income is less than $100 per person.

News accounts say a sector of the Liberian masses look to foreign intervention, including U.S. troops, to help bring an end to the bloodshed and bring economic relief to their country. Some of this hope may be rooted in what some perceive as long-time close relations between Liberia and the U.S.

The U.S. history books and the big business press claim that Liberia was founded in 1822 by freed slaves who migrated from the U.S. But that theory is disputed. There is evidence to show that the American Colonization Society, a group of whites including slaveowners, bought land in Liberia in 1817 for next to nothing.

One of the most prominent of these slave owners was Francis Scott Key, credited with writing the words of the Star Spangled Banner, the U.S. national anthem. Another slaveowning member of the ACS was William Thornton, an amateur architect who designed the U.S. Capitol. It was mainly slaves who built that historic building and others in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.

Former slaves were encouraged to emigrate to Liberia by the ACS, not to escape the horrors of slavery but to keep them from fighting for the right to jobs, education and political representation that whites on the whole had won. In other words, the ACS, seeing that the days of their slavocracy were numbered, mapped out this strategy in order to undermine the potential that former slaves might win democratic rights, including receiving 40 acres and a mule from the federal government.

In the 1920s the Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. got a 99-year lease for 1 million acres of Liberian land at 6 cents per acre per year. Its Liberian rubber plantation became the company's main source of profit while Liberia sunk deeper into poverty.

Untapped oil reserves in Gulf of Guinea

Bush and the Pentagon claim that the only motive for sending U.S. troops into Liberia would be to help bring about "stability and democracy" for the war-weary Liberian people. Nothing could be further from the truth. The real truth lies in the U.S. wanting to control the most important world resource--oil.

Liberia could be a jumping-off place for U.S. troops to control the nearby Gulf of Guinea. Vast untapped oil reserves were recently discovered there. Whatever imperialist power controls this strategically oil-rich region will be in the position to dramatically increase its oil markets. For the U.S., this could mean a 25-percent increase in oil imports from Africa.

Nigeria and the former Portuguese col ony of Sao Tome and Principe are located on the Gulf of Guinea. So is Ivory Coast, which is in the midst of a civil war instigated by its former French oppressors.

Kayode Fayemi, the leader of the Center for Democracy and Development based in Lagos, Nigeria, stated, "The focus on oil in the Gulf of Guinea would probably ensure that the United States looks the other way when it comes to human rights, account ability and transparency. In Nigeria, the example of that would be how does the United States respond to campaigns from local communities for equitable and local management of resources." (NY Times, July 6)

The U.S. government certainly did not offer any support over a year ago for the justifiable takeovers of oil facilities in the Niger Delta organized by defiant Nigerian women, who demanded that the oil conglomerates fund jobs and educational opportunities for their sons. A Nigerian paper, This Day, reported that the U.S. may be deploying troops to the Niger Delta to "protect" oil facilities there.

Bush's quest for endless war cannot be separated from what is going on in Liberia, Nigeria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Bush is accusing Taylor of instigating war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone, but it is Bush who is the biggest war criminal of all.

Bush envisions himself as a modern-day emperor, similar to the rulers of the vicious Roman empire, and the majority of the world as an appendage of U.S. corporations.

Reprinted from the July 17, issue of Workers World newspaper
(Copyright Workers World Service: Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies of this document, but changing it is not allowed. For more information contact Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011; via email: ww@wwpublish.com.)
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