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[Note for TomDispatch Readers: We have news and a special offer for TomDispatch readers today. As all TD obsessives know, for the last two years award-winning journalist Nick Turse has been covering a striking development tenaciously and practically alone: the “pivot” of U.S. Africa Command to that continent. It’s a major story that, at the moment, simply can’t be found elsewhere and it’s now in book form, thanks to our growing publishing program at Dispatch Books. Its title: Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and it’s that ominous “tomorrow” that catches just why we should all be concerned. Right now, when you think of war, American-style, what comes to mind is Iraq or Afghanistan or maybe Libya or even Yemen, but as Turse makes clear, tomorrow it could be Mali, or Nigeria, or Niger, or dozens of other places on the African continent. This story should be a significant beat for the mainstream media, but as of now almost no one’s paying attention except, of course, the U.S. military -- andTomDispatch. Glenn Greenwald calls Nick's new book “gripping and meticulous... his investigations... reveal a secret war with grave implications for Africans and Americans alike.” Noam Chomsky says, “Nick Turse’s investigative reporting has revealed a remarkable picture of evolving U.S. military operations in Africa that have been concealed from view, but have ominous portent, as he demonstrates vividly and in depth.” That’s why, both for your own information and to support a small operation that does big things, you really should pick up a copy of Nick’s remarkable new book of reportage, available now and officially published in a few days. (If you want to order it directly from our publisher, the stalwart and remarkable Haymarket Books, just click here and then, for a special publication date discount of 40%, enter this code, TBF40, at checkout.)
For those of you who would like to support TomDispatch in a slightly more grandiose way and help keep us atop the latest developments in a roiling world, a contribution of $100 to this site will get you a signed, personalized copy of Tomorrow’s Battlefield. It’s an offer we hope you’ll jump at, giving us the sort of financial boost we always need. Just check out our donation pagefor the details -- and, as ever, many thanks in advance. One small scheduling matter: for those of you who get your contributions to us within 36 hours of the posting of this piece, a signed book will be in the mail to you almost immediately. For the rest of you: be patient. The next batch of books won’t go out until early May. Tom]
There were those secret service agents sent to Colombia to protect the president on a summit trip and the prostitutes they brought back to their hotel rooms. There was the Air Force general on a major bender in Moscow (with more women involved). There were those Drug Enforcement Administration agents and their “sex parties” abroad (possibly in Colombia again) financed by -- no kidding! -- local drug cartels. And there were, of course, the two senior secret service agents who, after a night of drinking, ran their car into a White House security barrier.
That's what we do know from the headlines and news reports, when it comes to sex, drugs, and acting truly badly abroad (as well as at home). And yet there's so much more, as TomDispatch’s intrepid Nick Turse reports today. As you'll see, Turse has unearthed a continent’s worth of bad behavior, even as U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) went out of its way to obstruct his reporting and the documents he obtained under the Freedom of Information Act were so heavily redacted that ink companies must be making a fortune. No one should, of course, be surprised that as AFRICOM has quietly and with almost no attention pivoted to Africa, making inroads in 49 of the 54 countries on that continent, a certain kind of all-American behavior has “pivoted” with it. In a revelatory piece today, Turse -- whose groundbreaking new book, Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, has just been published -- pulls the curtain back on one bit of scandalous and disturbing behavior after another on a continent that Washington is in the process of making its own; in other words (given the pattern of the last 13 years), that it’s helping to destabilize in a major way.
If you want a little bit of light comedy to leaven the news, only a few weeks ago, AFRICOM hosted military lawyers from 17 African nations at its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. The subject of the gathering: “the rule of law.” As Lieutenant General Steven Hummer, AFRICOM deputy to the commander of military operations, said in his opening remarks, “The rule of law is our most important export.” Turse has a slightly different interpretation of what the U.S. is “exporting” to Africa along with destabilization and blowback. Tom
Sex, Drugs, and Dead Soldiers
What U.S. Africa Command Doesn’t Want You to Know
By Nick Turse
Six people lay lifeless in the filthy brown water.
It was 5:09 a.m. when their Toyota Land Cruiser plunged off a bridge in the West African country of Mali. For about two seconds, the SUV sailed through the air, pirouetting 180 degrees as it plunged 70 feet, crashing into the Niger River.
Three of the dead were American commandos. The driver, a captain nicknamed “Whiskey Dan,” was the leader of a shadowy team of operatives never profiled in the media and rarely mentioned even in government publications. One of the passengers was from an even more secretive unit whose work is often integral to Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which conducts clandestine kill-and-capture missions overseas. Three of the others weren’t military personnel at all or even Americans. They were Moroccan women alternately described as barmaids or "prostitutes."
Legacy of racism and colonialism targeted: Reparations Movements Meet to Make International Connections
By Linn Washington, Jr.
Dignitaries from three continents gathered in New York City recently to sharpen their strategies for confronting some of the world’s most powerful nations over a subject that sizable numbers of citizens support in the nearly two-dozen nations represented: reparations for the legacy of a history of slavery, colonialism and government-sanctioned segregation.
Credit where credit's due...but only where it's due: How Can Obama Claim the Alternative to a Nuclear Deal with Iran is War?
By Dave Lindorff
A kudo to President Obama. But just one.
If he manages to pull off an agreement with Iran on limiting that country's nuclear fuel enrichment program in the fact of determined resistance from Republicans, Neocons, the Israel Lobby and the warmongers in both the GOP and his own Democratic Party, he will have finally earned at least some small portion of the gold in his Nobel Peace medallion.
Making enemies by droning on and on: It’s Guilt that has US Military and Embassy Staff Fleeing Yemen Like Scared Rats
By Dave Lindorff
I’m the first to admit that I don’t know all that much about Yemen, or about the Houthi rebels who have taken control of Sana’a, the ancient Arab country’s capital, leading to the hasty evacuation of all US military forces (some 250 Special Forces personnel and the staff of the US embassy) from that country located at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
No more AUMFs! No more ‘unitary executives’!: We’re Already Losing Our Democracy and All Our Freedoms to the 2001 AUMF
By Dave Lindorff
Critics of President Obama’s proposed Authorization for Use of Military Force AUMF) against ISIS have been focused upon its deliberately obfuscatory and ambiguous language, which they rightly note would make it essentially a carte blanche from Congress allowing the president to go to war almost anywhere some would-be terrorist or terrorist copycat could be found who claims affinity with ISIS.
By Dave Lindorff
The Nobel Peace Laureate President Barack Obama, the guy who once campaigned claiming one US war -- the one against Iraq -- was a “bad” one, and the other -- against Afghanistan -- was a “good” one, turns out to be a man who, once anointed commander-in-chief, can’t seem to find a war he doesn’t consider to be a “good” idea.
By Francine Mukwaya, UK Representative, Friends of the Congo
On Monday, January 19th, Congolese citizens rose up to contest the latest maneuver by the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to prolong President Joseph Kabila's stay in power. According to Congo's constitution, the president can only serve two five-year terms and Joseph Kabila's second five-year term ends on December 19, 2016.
Throughout 2014, supporters of Kabila floated the idea of amending the constitution so he could run for a third term but a fierce push back from inside (Catholic Church, civil society, and political opposition) and outside (U.S., UN, EU, Belgium and France) the DRC forced Kabila's supporters to shelve the idea and explore other avenues for keeping their man in power. In addition to the internal and external pressures, the downfall of President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso in October 2014 sent a strong message that changing the constitution is a risky venture. Blaise Compaore was driven out of power by a popular uprising on October 31, 2014 when he tried to change the country's constitution to remain in power.
The latest scheme devised by members of Kabila's political party (PPRD) and Presidential Majority coalition is: to push through the Congolese parliament an electoral law that would ultimately allow Kabila to stay in power beyond 2016. Article 8 of the law makes the completion of a national census a prerequisite for holding Presidential elections. Analysts believe it would take about four years to complete the census. These four years would run beyond December 19, 2016; the date that Kabila's second term comes to a constitutional end. Opposition figures, youth and Congolese civil society at-large strongly pushed back on this feature of the law. Nonetheless, the Congolese National Assembly passed the law on Saturday, January 17th and sent it to the Senate for passage.
Congolese opposition figures and youth descended into the streets from Monday, January 19th to Thursday, January 22nd with the aim of occupying the Senate in the capital city of Kinshasa. They were met with fierce and lethal resistance from Kabila's security forces. Youth and opposition-led marches ensued in Goma, Bukavu and Mbandaka. The government's clamp down was brutal. They arrested opposition figures, teargassed people in the streets, and fired live rounds of bullets into crowds. After four days of continuous demonstrations, the International Federation of Human Rights said, a total of 42 people were killed. Human Rights watch reported similar numbers claiming 36 dead and 21 by security forces.
On Friday, January 23rd, the Congolese Senate voted to remove the clause in the electoral law that would allow President Kabila to use the census as a back door rationale for remaining in power beyond 2016. The President of the Senate, Leon Kengo Wa Dondo said that it was because people went into the streets, that the Senate voted to remove the toxic article in the electoral law. He noted "we listened to the streets, that is why today's vote was a historic one." The amendments made by the Senate to the law then required that the law be passed on to a mixed chamber so that the Senate and National Assembly's versions of the law could be reconciled. The pressure was increasing on the Kabila regime as the Catholic Church voiced concerns about the grave actions on the part of the Kabila regime while Western diplomats went into high gear in an attempt to calm tensions.
On Saturday, January 24th, the President of the National Assembly told the press that the Senate amendments would be accepted. On Sunday, January 25th the National Assembly voted on the law and accepted the changes made by the Senate. The population claimed a victory and the general sentiment was expressed in the Lingala phrase "Bazo Pola Bazo Ndima" in English means, they [Kabila regime] lost and have accepted their defeat.
The central matter of concern is far from resolved. The Congolese people have no doubt that Kabila wants to remain in power through whatever means necessary. Although, the people have claimed a victory, vigilance is paramount as the process unfolds, and the country moves toward the constitutionally mandated end of Joseph Kabila's tenure as president on December 19, 2016.
A heavy price was paid last week with the loss of life. However, the veil of fear was pierced and future demonstrations are likely in order to protect the constitution, assure that Kabila leaves power per the law of the land and organize Presidential elections in 2016.
The youth movement is maturing with its savvy use of new media technologies. It is also strengthening its network inside and outside the country. The youth shared the cell phone numbers of the Senators and National Assembly members and mobilized Congolese inside and outside the DRC to call and send text messages to the members of parliament demanding that they scrap the electoral law. The usage of social media by the youth prompted the government to shut down the Internet and SMS system last week (wireless Internet, SMS and Facebook have yet to be restored). Via twitter, Congolese youth created the hashtag #Telema, a Lingala word meaning "stand up" which served as a rallying cry for young Congolese inside and outside the country. We also created a website with the same name (www.Telema.org), in order to provide support to the youth on the ground.
The people have demonstrated that the power is in their hands and not the politicians. The battle is not for or against one law or the other but rather for a new Congo, a Congo where the interests of the people are prioritized and protected by their leaders. Our fight is to have a say in the decision-making process in our country, and ultimately control and determine the affairs of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
By Linn Washington Jr.
Tinduf, Algeria -- News about the historic change of relations between the United States and Cuba triggered cheers across the five Sahrawi refugee camps located near this Sahara Desert city located 1,100-miles southwest of Algeria’s capital of Algiers on the Mediterranean Sea.
By Linn Washington, Jr.
Algiers -- The Western Sahara is not just a section of the famous desert that dominates North Africa.
A Base Camp, an Authoritarian Regime, and the Future of U.S. Blowback in Africa
By Nick Turse, TomDispatch
Admit it. You don’t know where Chad is. You know it’s in Africa, of course. But beyond that? Maybe with a map of the continent and by some process of elimination you could come close. But you’d probably pick Sudan or maybe the Central African Republic. Here’s a tip. In the future, choose that vast, arid swath of land just below Libya.
Who does know where Chad is? That answer is simpler: the U.S. military. Recent contracting documents indicate that it’s building something there. Not a huge facility, not a mini-American town, but a small camp.
That the U.S. military is expanding its efforts in Africa shouldn’t be a shock anymore. For years now, the Pentagon has been increasing its missions there and promoting a mini-basing boom that has left it with a growing collection of outposts sprouting across the northern tier of the continent. This string of camps is meant to do what more than a decade of counterterrorism efforts, including the training and equipping of local military forces and a variety of humanitarian hearts-and-minds missions, has failed to accomplish: transform the Trans-Sahara region in the northern and western parts of the continent into a bulwark of stability.
That the U.S. is doing more in Chad specifically isn’t particularly astonishing either. Earlier this year, TomDispatch and the Washington Post both reported on separate recent deployments of U.S. troops to that north-central African nation. Nor is it shocking that the new American compound is to be located near the capital, N’Djamena. The U.S. has previously employed N’Djamena as a hub for its air operations. What’s striking is the terminology used in the official documents. After years of adamant claims that the U.S. military has just one lonely base in all of Africa -- Camp Lemonnier in the tiny Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti -- Army documents state that it will now have “base camp facilities” in Chad.
U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) still insists that there is no Chadian base, that the camp serves only as temporary lodgings to support a Special Operations training exercise to be held next year. It also refused to comment about another troop deployment to Chad uncovered by TomDispatch. When it comes to American military activities in Africa, much remains murky.
Nonetheless, one fact is crystal clear: the U.S. is ever more tied to Chad. This remains true despite a decade-long effort to train its military forces only to see them bolt from one mission in the face of casualties, leave another in a huff after gunning down unarmed civilians, and engage in human rights abuses at home with utter impunity. All of this suggests yet another potential source of blowback from America’s efforts in Africa which have backfired, gone bust, and sown strife from Libya to South Sudan, the Gulf Guinea to Mali, and beyond.
A Checkered History with Chad
Following 9/11, the U.S. launched a counterterrorism program, known as the Pan-Sahel Initiative, to bolster the militaries of Mali, Niger, Mauritania, and Chad. Three years later, in 2005, the program expanded to include Nigeria, Senegal, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia and was renamed the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP). The idea was to turn a huge swath of Africa into a terror-resistant bulwark of stability. Twelve years and hundreds of millions of dollars later, the region is anything but stable, which means that it fits perfectly, like a missing puzzle piece, with the rest of the under-the-radar U.S. “pivot” to that continent.
Coups by the U.S.-backed militaries of Mauritania in 2005 and again in 2008, Niger in 2010, and Mali in 2012, as well as a 2011 revolution that overthrew Tunisia’s U.S.-backed government (after the U.S.-supported army stood aside); the establishment of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in 2006; and the rise of Boko Haram from an obscure radical sect to a raging insurgent movement in northern Nigeria are only some of the most notable recent failures in TSCTP nations. Chad came close to making the list, too, but attempted military coups in 2006 and 2013 were thwarted, and in 2008, the government, which had itself come to power in a 1990 coup, managed to hold off against a rebel assault on the capital.
Through it all, the U.S. has continued to mentor Chad’s military, and in return, that nation has lent its muscle to support Washington’s interests in the region. Chad, for instance, joined the 2013 U.S.-backed French military intervention to retake Mali after Islamists began routing the forces of the American-trained officer who had launched a coup that overthrew that country’s democratically elected government. According to military briefing slides obtained by TomDispatch, an Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) liaison team was deployed to Chad to aid operations in Mali and the U.S. also conducted pre-deployment training for its Chadian proxies. After initial success, the French effort became bogged down and has now become a seemingly interminable, smoldering counterinsurgency campaign. Chad, for its part, quickly withdrew its forces from the fight after sustaining modest casualties. “Chad's army has no ability to face the kind of guerrilla fighting that is emerging in northern Mali. Our soldiers are going to return to Chad,” said that country’s president, Idriss Deby.
Still, U.S. support continued.
In September of 2013, the U.S. military organized meetings with Chad’s senior-most military leaders, including Army chief General Brahim Seid Mahamat, Minister of Defense General Bénaïndo Tatola, and counterterror tsar Brigadier General Abderaman Youssouf Merry, to build solid relationships and support efforts at “countering violent extremist operations objectives and theater security cooperation programs.” This comes from a separate set of documents concerning “IO,” or Information Operations, obtained from the military through the Freedom of Information Act. French officials also attended these meetings and the agenda included the former colonial power’s support of “security cooperation with Chad in the areas of basic and officer training and staff procedures” as well as “French support [for] U.S. security cooperation efforts with the Chadian military.” Official briefing slides also mention ongoing “train and equip” activities with Chadian troops.
All of this followed on the heels of a murky coup plot by elements of the armed forces last May to which the Chadian military reacted with a crescendo of violence. According to a State Department report, Chad’s “security forces shot and killed unarmed civilians and arrested and detained members of parliament, military officers, former rebels, and others.”
After Chad reportedly helped overthrow the Central African Republic’s president in early 2013 and later aided in the 2014 ouster of the rebel leader who deposed him, it sent its forces into that civil-war-torn land as part of an African Union mission bolstered by U.S.-backed French troops. Soon, Chad’s peacekeeping forces were accused of stoking sectarian strife by supporting Muslim militias against Christian fighters. Then, on March 29th, a Chadian military convoy arrived in a crowded marketplace in the capital, Bangui. There, according to a United Nations report, the troops “reportedly opened fire on the population without any provocation. At the time, the market was full of people, including many girls and women buying and selling produce. As panic-stricken people fled in all directions, the soldiers allegedly continued firing indiscriminately.”
In all, 30 civilians were reportedly killed and more than 300 were wounded. Amid criticism, Chad angrily announced it was withdrawing its troops. “Despite the sacrifices we have made, Chad and Chadians have been targeted in a gratuitous and malicious campaign that blamed them for all the suffering” in the Central African Republic, declared Chad's foreign ministry.
In May, despite this, the U.S. sent 80 military personnel to Chad to operate drones and conduct surveillance in an effort to locate hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in neighboring Nigeria. “These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area,” President Obama told Congress. The force, he said, will remain in Chad “until its support in resolving the kidnapping situation is no longer required.”
In July, AFRICOM admitted that it had reduced surveillance flights searching for the girls to focus on other missions. Now AFRICOM tells TomDispatch that, while “the U.S. continues to help Nigeria address the threat posed by Boko Haram, the previously announced ISR support deployment to Chad has departed.” Yet more than seven months after their abduction, the girls still have not been located, let alone rescued.
In June, according to the State Department, the deputy commander of U.S. Army Africa (USARAF), Brigadier General Kenneth H. Moore, Jr., visited Chad to “celebrat[e] the successful conclusion of a partnership between USARAF and the Chadian Armed Forces.” Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus arrived in that landlocked country at the same time to meet with “top Chadian officials.” His visit, according to an embassy press release, “underscore[d] the importance of bilateral relations between the two countries, as well as military cooperation.” And that cooperation has been ample.
Earlier this year, Chadian troops joined those of the United States, Burkina Faso, Canada, France, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Senegal, the United Kingdom, and host nation Niger for three weeks of military drills as part of Flintlock 2014, an annual Special Ops counterterrorism exercise for TSCTP nations. At about the time Flintlock was concluding, soldiers from Chad, Cameroon, Burundi, Gabon, Nigeria, the Republic of Congo, the Netherlands, and the United States took part in another annual training exercise, Central Accord 2014. The Army also sent medical personnel to mentor Chadian counterparts in “tactical combat casualty care,” while Marines and Navy personnel traveled to Chad to train that country’s militarized anti-poaching park rangers in small unit tactics and patrolling.
A separate contingent of Marines conducted military intelligence training with Chadian officers and non-commissioned officers. The scenario for the final exercise, also involving personnel from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mauritania, Senegal, and Tunisia, had a ripped-from-the-headlines quality: “preparing for an unconventional war against an insurgent threat in Mali.”
As for U.S. Army Africa, it sent trainers as part of a separate effort to provide Chadian troops with instruction on patrolling and fixed-site defense as well as live-fire training. “We are ready to begin training in Chad for about 1,300 soldiers -- an 850 man battalion, plus another 450 man battalion,” said Colonel John Ruffing, the Security Cooperation director of U.S. Army Africa, noting that the U.S. was working in tandem with a French private security firm.
In September, AFRICOM reaffirmed its close ties with Chad by renewing an Acquisition Cross Servicing Agreement, which allows both militaries to purchase from each other or trade for basic supplies. The open-ended pact, said Brigadier General James Vechery, AFRICOM’s director for logistics, “will continue to strengthen our bilateral cooperation on international security issues... as well as the interoperability of the armed forces of both nations.”
The Base That Wasn’t and the Deployment That Might Be
In the months since the Chadian armed forces’ massacre in Bangui, various U.S. military contract solicitations and related documents have pointed toward an even more substantive American presence in Chad. In late September, the Army put out a call for bids to sustain American personnel for six months at those “base camp facilities” located near N'Djamena. Supporting documents specifically mention 35 U.S. personnel and detail the services necessary to run an austere outpost: field sanitation, bulk water supply, sewage services, and trash removal. The materials indicate that “local security policy and procedures” are to be provided by the Chadian armed forces and allude to the use of more than one location, saying “none of the sites in Chad are considered U.S.-federally controlled facilities.” The documents state that such support for those facilities is to run until July 2015.
After AFRICOM failed to respond to repeated email requests for further information, I called up Chief of Media Operations Benjamin Benson and asked about the base camp. He was even more tight-lipped than usual. “I personally don’t know anything,” he told me. “That’s not saying AFRICOM doesn’t have any information on that.”
In follow-up emails, Benson eventually told me that the “base camp” is strictly a temporary facility to be used by U.S. forces only for the duration of the upcoming Flintlock 2015 exercise. He stated in no uncertain terms: “We are not establishing a base/forward presence/contingency location, building a U.S. facility, or stationing troops in Chad.”
Benson would not, however, let me speak with an expert on U.S. military activities in Chad. Nor would he confirm or deny the continued presence of the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance liaison team deployed to Chad in 2013 to support the French mission in Mali, first reported on by TomDispatch this March. “[W]e cannot discuss ISR activities or the locations and durations of operational deployments,” he wrote. If an ISR team is still present in Chad, this would represent a substantive long-term deployment despite the lack of a formal U.S. base.
The N’Djamena “base camp” is just one of a series of Chadian projects mentioned in recent contracting documents. An Army solicitation from September sought “building materials for use in Chad,” while supporting documents specifically mention an “operations center/multi-use facility.” That same month, the Army awarded a contract for the transport of equipment from Niamey, Niger, the home of another of the growing network of U.S. outposts in Africa, to N’Djamena. The Army also began seeking out contractors capable of supplying close to 600 bunk beds that could support an American-sized weight of 200 to 225 pounds for a facility “in and around the N'Djamena region.” And just last month, the military put out a call for a contractor to supply construction equipment -- a bulldozer, dump truck, excavator, and the like -- for a project in, you guessed it, N'Djamena.
This increased U.S. interest in Chad follows on the heels of a push by France, the nation’s former colonial overlord and America’s current premier proxy in Africa, to beef up its military footprint on the continent. In July, following U.S.-backed French military interventions in Mali and the Central African Republic, French President François Hollande announced a new mission, Operation Barkhane (a term for a crescent-shaped sand dune found in the Sahara). Its purpose: a long-term counterterrorism operation involving 3,000 French troops deployed to a special forces outpost in Burkina Faso and forward operating bases in Mali, Niger, and not surprisingly, Chad.
“There are plenty of threats in all directions,” Hollande told French soldiers in Chad, citing militants in Mali and Libya as well as Boko Haram in Nigeria. “Rather than having large bases that are difficult to manage in moments of crisis, we prefer installations that can be used quickly and efficiently.” Shortly afterward, President Obama approved millions in emergency military aid for French operations in Mali, Niger, and Chad, while the United Kingdom, another former colonial power in the region, dispatched combat aircraft to the French base in N'Djamena to contribute to the battle against Boko Haram.
From Setback to Blowback?
In recent years, the U.S. military has been involved in a continual process of expanding its presence in Africa. Out of public earshot, officials have talked about setting up a string of small bases across the northern tier of the continent. Indeed, over the last years, U.S. staging areas, mini-bases, and outposts have popped up in the contiguous nations of Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and, skipping Chad, in the Central African Republic, followed by South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. A staunch American ally with a frequent and perhaps enduring American troop presence, Chad seems like the natural spot for still another military compound -- the only missing link in a long chain of countries stretching from west to east, from one edge of the continent to the other -- even if AFRICOM continues to insist that there’s no American “base” in the works.
Even without a base, the United States has for more than a decade poured copious amounts of money, time, and effort into making Chad a stable regional counterterrorism partner, sending troops there, training and equipping its army, counseling its military leaders, providing tens of millions of dollars in aid, funding its military expeditions, supplying its army with equipment ranging from tents to trucks, donating additional equipment for its domestic security forces, providing a surveillance and security system for its border security agents, and looking the other way when its military employed child soldiers.
The results? A flight from the fight in Mali, a massacre in the Central African Republic, hundreds of schoolgirls still in the clutches of Boko Haram, and a U.S. alliance with a regime whose “most significant human rights problems,” according to the most recent country report by the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “were security force abuse, including torture; harsh prison conditions; and discrimination and violence against women and children,” not to mention the restriction of freedom of speech, press, assembly, and movement, as well as arbitrary arrest and detention, denial of fair public trial, executive influence on the judiciary, property seizures, child labor and forced labor (that also includes children), among other abuses. Amnesty International further found that human rights violations “are committed with almost total impunity by members of the Chadian military, the Presidential Guard, and the state intelligence bureau, the Agence Nationale de Securité.”
With Chad, the United States finds itself more deeply involved with yet another authoritarian government and another atrocity-prone proxy force. In this, it continues a long series of mistakes, missteps, and mishaps across Africa. These include an intervention in Libya that transformed the country from an autocracy into a near-failed state, training efforts that produced coup leaders in Mali and Burkina Faso, American nation-building that led to a failed state in South Sudan, anti-piracy measures that flopped in the Gulf of Guinea, the many fiascos of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, the training of an elite Congolese unit that committed mass rapes and other atrocities, problem-plagued humanitarian efforts in Djibouti and Ethiopia, and the steady rise of terror groups in U.S.-backed countries like Nigeria and Tunisia.
Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch.com and a fellow at the Nation Institute. A 2014 Izzy Award winner, he has reported from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Africa and his pieces have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. His New York Times bestseller Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam recently received an American Book Award.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
Copyright 2014 Nick Turse
Ebola, “Black River”,
Thank-you for giving your name
To a killer virus.
Those scientists, those doctors,
The ones who discovered the germ,
They looked at a map
Karmic payback for selfish Americans: Dickensian US Working Conditions Almost Guarantee Ebola Catastrophe
By Dave Lindorff
Ebola is coming! Ebola is coming! America is doomed!
That, in essence, is the message of the US corporate news media, always on the lookout for the next sensational story with which to stir up hysteria among the public in the interest of higher ratings.
Ebola is both preventable and controllable: Statement of the Pan African Nonviolence and Peacebuilding Network
World Leaders Take Action Now
Save precious lives, give peace a chance!
We are a Pan-African Network of Peacemakers from over 30 countries across the African continent and represent more than 20 organisations. Our 20-member Steering Committee has representatives from West, East, Central Africa, southern Africa and the islands. Some of our members are also from the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, with strong African connections. We work at the grassroots level, training in Nonviolence and mobilising communities for Peacebuilding.
We are disturbed by the ongoing and alarmingly vicious spread of the preventable and controllable Ebola virus that is not only killing people but is spreading fear and further destabilising West African communities. While the Ebola Crisis has become a global emergency, we are concerned that there does not seem to be a concerted political will at the global level to launch sufficient, well-planned and immediate actions to put an end to the epidemic and save precious lives. As stated by the World Health Organization, WHO, it can take six to nine months to bring this devastation to an end. We are deeply disturbed that grossly unequal treatment is meted out by the world in its response towards this preventable crisis in West Africa. While those from more developed countries have received swift medical treatment and have positively responded to the trial drugs, those in African nations are succumbing to the virus unnecessarily. As observed by Peter Piot, the researcher who discovered the virus, “It took the death of a thousand African(s) and the repatriation of two Americans before a public emergency was declared.” Our failure to act now can only lead to more catastrophes in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and West Africa at large.
Failure to act now could also lead to intensified conditions for violence and conflict, as people scramble for food, medicines and other basic necessities. While recognizing the responsibility that the African Union has already taken, the swift intervention of Cuba and the work of grassroots commitments already underway, we appeal (to both governmental and non-governmental leaders from within and outside the continent) OR (the United Nations and leaders of countries with efficient resources) for urgent medical and humanitarian interventions which will ensure that a maximum number of lives are saved.
We call upon the AU to strengthen its response by appointing a special Envoy on the Fight against Ebola with immediate effect. The Special Envoy must have a mandate to take all necessary measures, and with both the budget and the authority to take short-term action so as to respond effectively to the rapidly changing circumstances. We also call for the Special Fund to address immediate and long term medical and socio-economic needs of those nations and communities affected by the crisis.
At the same time, we strongly caution against any militarisation of humanitarian assistance to the affected areas. Utmost care must be taken to ensure that the deployment of military health personnel is strictly subjected to civilian authority. We are concerned that this medical and human crisis not be exploited for continued military, political or economic advantages by any country or party.
The Ebola crisis is a manifestation of under-development and the deplorable health-care delivery systems in most parts of Africa, often emerging from war and violent conflicts. Liberia has been hit hard by this crisis because it is a fragile state, recovering from decades of turmoil and civil war. We call for immediate steps to improve the health and medical infrastructure for all countries on the African continent to ensure better healthcare now and for the future.
We can only defeat the Ebola epidemic if we acknowledge that this is not a local problem, but a global threat with common responsibilities for which there should be coordinated international actions utilizing without bias the latest medical and health care technologies available in our world With coordinated international people-centred action, we can heal the sick and build healthy, peaceful societies as well.
The Pan African Network on Nonviolence and Peacebuilding Steering Committee
Miguel Gomes Antonio (Angola) SACHI
Elavie Ndura (Burundi/USA)
Rosemary Garsi (Cameroon) Embrace Dignity
Koldobi Velasco (Canary Islands) AA-MOC
Diaku Dianzenza (DRC / South Africa)
Sherif Joseph Rizk (Egypt)
Kesia-Onam Togo-Birch (Ghana) WANEP
Benard Lisamadi Agona (Kenya) CAPI
Steve Sharra (Malawi) LCD Malawi
Fiona Mwale (Malawi) AWANICh
Paulina Dempers (Namibia) Namibia United African Alliance Community
Oussenia Alidou (Niger / USA) African Women Coalition Against War
Olufemi Oluniyi (Nigeria / USA) AFPREA
Nozizwe Madlala- Routledge (South Africa) Embrace Dignity
Moses Monday John (South Sudan) ONAD
Mamoun Abdallah (Sudan) SONAD
Musa Hlophe (Swaziland)
Abdeslam Omar Lahsen (Western Sahara) AFRAPRADESA
Charity Mungweme (Zimbabwe / South Africa) Action Support Centre
Miles Rutendo Tanhira (Zimbabwe / Sweden) Journalist
By John Grant
I’m a leftist, but I have a weakness for my brothers and sisters on the right. For some reason, I’m compelled to see what troglodytes like Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Megyn Kelly are thinking. They’re all quite entertaining as they do their best to un-man Barack Obama and advocate day-in, day-out for a war with Islam. They are masters of malicious fog.
Then there’s a writer like New York Times columnist David Brooks, a man who must sit around observing current events until he figures out a safe, center-right position he can express in the most reasonable, muddled language possible. Reading David Brooks is like trying to get a grip on jello.
The Limits of America’s African Experiment in Nation Building
By Nick Turse, TomDispatch
[This story was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute. Additional funding was provided through the generosity of Adelaide Gomer.]
Juba, South Sudan -- The soft glow of the dancing white lights is a dead giveaway. It’s Christmas in July at the U.S. Embassy compound. Behind high walls topped with fierce-looking metal impediments meant to discourage climbers, there’s a party under way.
Close your eyes and you could be at a stateside summer barbeque or an office holiday party. Even with them open, the local realities of dirt roads and dirty water, civil war, mass graves, and nightly shoot-to-kill curfews seem foreign. These walls, it turns out, are even higher than they look.
Out by the swimming pool and the well-stocked bar, every table is packed with people. Slightly bleary-eyed men and sun-kissed women wear Santa hats and decorations in their hair. One festive fellow is dressed as Cousin Eddie from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation complete with a white sweater, black dickey, and bright white loafers. Another is straddling an inflatable killer whale that he’s borrowed from the collection of playthings around the pool and is using as improvised chair while he stuffs his face from an all-American smorgasbord. We’re all eating well tonight. Mac and cheese, barbequed ribs, beef tenderloin, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, and for desert, peach cobbler. The drinks are flowing, too: wine and whisky and fine Tusker beer.
Yuletide songs drift out into the sultry night in this, the capital of the world’s newest nation. “Simply having a wonderful Christmastime,” croons Paul McCartney.
Just 15 minutes away, near the airport in an area known as Tongping, things aren’t quite so wonderful. There’s no fried chicken, no ribs, no peach cobbler. At Juba’s United Nations camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs), they’re eating sorghum and a crude porridge made from a powdered blend of corn and soy beans provided by the United Nations’ World Food Program. Children at the camp call it “the yellow food.” “It’s no good,” one of them tells me, with a quick head shake for emphasis.
I mention to a few of the embassy revelers that I’m heading several hundred miles north to Malakal. A couple of them assure me that, according to colleagues, it’s “not that bad.” But while we’re chowing down, an emaciated young girl in Malakal clings to life. This one-year-old arrived at the hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders, or MSF) at the U.N. camp there several days earlier, severely malnourished and weighing just 11 pounds. It’s uncertain if she’ll survive. One in 10 children who arrive at the hospital in her condition don’t.
A Man-Made Famine
As John Kerry, then-chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, put it in 2012, the United States “helped midwife the birth” of South Sudan. The choice of words may have been cringe-worthy, but hardly divorced from reality. For more than 20 years, a bipartisan coalition in Washington and beyond championed rebel forces here. As the new nation broke away from Sudan, after decades of bloody civil war, the U.S. poured in billions of dollars in aid, including hundreds of millions of dollars of military and security assistance, and sent military instructors to train the country’s armed forces and advisers to mentor government officials.
It would be Washington’s major nation-building effort in Africa, a new country destined to join Iraq and Afghanistan as a regional bulwark of democracy and a shining example of American know-how. On South Sudan’s independence day, July 9, 2011, President Obama hailed the moment as a “time of hope” and pledged U.S. partnership to the new land, emphasizing security and development. There’s precious little evidence of either of these at the U.N. camps and even less in vast areas of the countryside now teetering on the edge of a catastrophic famine.
Since a civil war broke out in December 2013, at least 10,000 South Sudanese have been killed, untold numbers of women and girls have been victims of sexual violence, and atrocities have been committed by all parties to the conflict. As a result, in the eyes of the United Nations, in a world of roiling strife -- civil wars, mass killings, hunger, and conflicts from Iraq to Gaza, Ukraine to Libya -- South Sudan is, along with the Central African Republic and Syria, one of just three “L3 emergencies,” the world’s most severe, large-scale humanitarian crises. The country has also just displaced Somalia -- for six years running the archetypal failed state -- atop the Fund for Peace’s 178-nation list of the world’s most fragile nations.
Today, close to 100,000 people are huddled on United Nations military bases around the country, just a fraction of the almost 1.5 million who have been put to flight and are waiting out the war as internal exiles or as refugees in the bordering nations of Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Sudan. Such massive levels of displacement guarantee another nightmare to come. Since so many subsistence farmers weren’t around to plant their crops, despite fertile ground and sufficient rain, seeds never met soil and food never had a chance to grow.
“At this point in time, because it’s the rainy season, there’s nothing we can do in terms of agriculture,” says Caroline Saint-Mleux, the regional emergency coordinator for East and Central Africa at CARE International. Above us, the sky is darkening as we sit in plastic chairs in the muddy “humanitarian hub,” a grimy ghetto of white tents, nondescript trailers, and makeshift headquarters of aid agencies like the International Committee of the Red Cross and MSF, on the outer edge of the U.N. base at Malakal. Her organization did distribute a limited number of seeds to farmers still on their land earlier in the year, but can do no more. The planting season is long past. “It would be a waste of energy at this point,” she says, resignation in her voice.
Famine "is a very realistic possibility,” Deborah Schein tells me. She’s the coordinator for the United Nations in Upper Nile State, where Malakal is located. Right now, experts are crunching the numbers and debating whether to formally declare a famine. Whether its this fall or early next year, aid workers say, it's definitely coming and the sooner it comes, the more lives can be saved. Recently, U.N. Security Council President Eugène-Richard Gasana called attention to “the catastrophic food insecurity situation.” Already, 3.9 million people -- about one in three South Sudanese -- face dangerous levels of food insecurity. However, unlike in Ethiopia in the 1980s, where drought led to crop failures that killed one million people, Vanessa Parra, Oxfam America’s press liaison in South Sudan, says this country is facing an “entirely man-made famine.”
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Women walk through the muddy U.N. Mission in South Sudan camp in Malakal. (Nick Turse)
If it were dry, it would take only five minutes to walk from Deborah Schein’s office at the U.N. base in Malakal to the Médecins Sans Frontières field hospital in the adjoining IDP camp where 17,000 South Sudanese are now taking refuge. But the rains have turned this ground into fetid mud and an easy walk into a slip-sliding slog.
At the end of a gray, mucky expanse that nearly sucks the boots off your feet, an MSF flag flies outside a barn-sized white tent. Before you enter, you need to visit a foot-washing station, then have your feet or boots disinfected. Even then, it’s impossible to keep the grime out. “As you can imagine, this is not the best environment for a hospital,” says Teresa Sancristoval, the energetic chief of MSF’s emergency operations in Malakal.
Step inside that tent and you’re immediately in a ward that’s electric with activity. It’s hard to believe that this 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week hospital is manned by only three expat doctors and three expat nurses, plus a medical team leader. Still, add in various support personnel, local staff, and the many patients and suddenly this giant tent begins to shrink, putting space at a premium.
“The great majority of the hospital is pediatrics,” says Sancristoval, a compact dynamo from Madrid with the bearing of a field general and intense eyes that go wide when making a point. Not that she even needs to point that out. In this first ward, the 15 metal-frame beds -- blue paint peeling, thin mattresses, four makeshift bamboo posts topped with mosquito nets -- are packed tight, all but two filled with mother and child or children. Some days, there’s not a bed to spare, leaving patients ill with infection and wracked by disease to sleep on whatever space can be found on the floor.
On a bed adjacent to the main thoroughfare sits a tiny girl in a yellow top and pink skirt, her head bandaged and covered in a clingy mesh net. Nyajuma has been in this hospital for two weeks. She was lying here inside this tent, wasted and withered, the night we were having our Christmas feast at the embassy about 400 miles south in Juba.
Nyajuma weighed only 11 pounds on arrival. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average one-year-old girl in the U.S. weighs more than double that. She was quickly started on the first of two powdered therapeutic foods to combat her severe malnutrition, followed by a regimen of Plumpy’nut, a high-protein, high-calorie peanut paste, four times a day along with two servings of milk.
It would have been bad enough if her only problem were severe malnutrition, but that condition also exacerbated the skin infection beneath the bandages on her head. In addition, she suffers from kala azar, a deadly disease caused by a parasite spread by sandflies that results in prolonged fever and weakness. On top of that, she is being treated for two other potentially lethal maladies, cholera and tuberculosis. Her mother, resting beside her, looks exhausted, world-beaten. Pregnant on arrival, she gave birth five days later. She lies next to Nyajuma, listless, but carefully covers her face with her arm as if to shield herself from the harsh world beyond this bed.
During her first week at the hospital, nurse Monica Alvarez tells me, Nyajuma didn’t crack a smile. “But now, voilà,” she says lifting the child, sparking a broad grin that reflects the sea change in her condition. Nyajuma is enduring the rigors of kala azar and tuberculosis treatments with great aplomb. “She’s eating well and she’s smiling all the time,” says Alvarez, who's quick with a smile herself. But Nyajuma is still in the early stages of treatment. Once stable, severely malnourished children can be transferred to ambulatory care. But it takes roughly six weeks for them to make a full recovery and be discharged. And in today’s South Sudan, they are the lucky ones.
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One-year-old Nyajuma sits on a bed next to her mother at the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital at the U.N. Mission in South Sudan camp in Malakal.
Of those who make it to the hospital in such a condition, 10% don’t survive, Javier Roldan, MSF’s medical team leader, tells me. “We have people who come in in later stages or have a co-infection because malnutrition has compromised their immune system, which makes treatment much more complicated.” He talks of the difficulty of losing patients for want of better facilities, more staff, and greater resources. “The outcome of a baby weighing one and a half kilos [3.3 pounds] in Europe or America would be no problem at all, but here there’s quite a high mortality rate," says Roldan. "It’s very frustrating for the medical staff when you have patients die because you don’t have the means to treat them.”
And Malakal is no anomaly. At the MSF feeding station in Leer, a town in adjoining Unity State, they’ve treated roughly 1,800 malnourished children since mid-May, compared to 2,300 in all of last year. North of Leer, in Bentiu, the site of repeated spasms of violence, the situation is especially grim. “Over five percent of the children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition,” says CARE’s Country Director for South Sudan Aimee Ansari. “On the day I left Bentiu, CARE helped parents transport the bodies of children who had died from malnutrition to a burial site.” In all, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the U.N. World Food Program (WFP), almost one million South Sudanese children under five years of age will require treatment for acute malnutrition in 2014. UNICEF projects that 50,000 of them could die.
The Camps and the Countryside
At the U.N.’s Tongping camp in Juba -- where nearly 11,500 of the area’s tens of thousands of internally displaced persons are taking refuge -- the food situation is “not very good at all.” So John, a 17-year-old resident, emphatically assures me beneath the relentless midday sun. “Outside, when I was living at home, we could have fruit or whatever we wanted.” Here, he eats no fresh food and no vegetables. Its sorghum and “the yellow food” mixed with sugar, oil, and water. “This food doesn’t even compare,” he says more than once.
Still, people here aren’t dying of malnutrition and even those in the ruder, more dismal locales in Bentiu, and Malakal are luckier than most since they have access to aid from NGOs. At a time when South Sudan needs them most, however, almost eight months of war, insecurity, and attacks on aid workers have severely limited the reach of humanitarian organizations. Speaking of the entire NGO community, Wendy Taeuber, country director for the International Rescue Committee in South Sudan, says, "The remoteness of rural areas of South Sudan combined with the rainy season means that there are hundreds of thousands of IDPs still in need of additional assistance."
Sitting in the trailer that serves as his office, I ask Paulin Nkwosseu, the chief field officer for UNICEF in Malakal, about the situation of those in less accessible areas along the Nile River where World Food Program distributions are limited. “Due to the crisis, people have no income and no food, so they’re surviving on monthly food distributions from WFP,” he tells me. “But they say that the food distributed by WFP is not sufficient for the whole family.”
UNICEF works with NGO partners to reach people outside the camps, but it’s a struggle. Nkwosseu walks over to a large wall map and begins to point out Nile River towns to the north like Wau Shilluk (currently suffering a cholera outbreak), Lul, Kodok, and Melut. These, he says, are hubs where South Sudanese from rural areas go when faced with hunger. The reason is simple enough: the river is one of the few viable transport options in a country the size of Texas that has almost no paved roads and whose dirt tracks in the rainy season are quickly reduced to impassable mud.
Even using the Nile is anything but a slam-dunk operation. Earlier this year, for instance, a convoy of barges transporting food and fuel to Malakal was attacked by armed men. Even absent the acts of rebels, soldiers, or bandits, food barges are regularly delayed by everything from mechanical issues to drawn out negotiations with local powerbrokers. Air drops are costly, impractical, and -- thanks to a lack of airfield infrastructure -- often unfeasible. Security is minimal and so thousands of tons of food stocks have simply been looted. Even when road transport is possible, vehicles are attacked and food is stolen by both government and rebel troops, eager to feed themselves. When food supplies do make it to the river towns, many in need are unlikely to make it in from the water-logged countryside in time.
Among African nations, South Sudan has had an almost unprecedented relationship with the United States. Aside from Liberia -- a nation settled, hundreds of years ago, by former American slaves, whose capital is named after a U.S. president -- it is the only African country for which Americans have evidenced a deep bipartisan commitment and “longstanding humanitarian and political interest as well as a deeper kinship,” says Cameron Hudson, who was the director for African affairs on the staff of the National Security Council from 2005 to 2009.
“For nearly a decade leading up to the 2011 declaration of independence, the cause of the nation and its citizens was one that was near and dear to the heart of two successive U.S. administrations and some of its most seasoned and effective thinkers and policymakers,” Patricia Taft, a senior associate with the Fund for Peace, wrote in a recent analysis of South Sudan. “In order to secure this nation-building ‘win,’ both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations poured tons of aid into South Sudan, in every form imaginable. From military aid to food aid to the provision of technical expertise, America was South Sudan’s biggest ally and backer, ardently midwifing the country into nationhood by whatever means necessary.”
For all America’s efforts, the wheels started coming off almost immediately. “We’ve gotten pretty good at understanding what goes into building a state, institutionally, but as far as what creates a nation that’s actually functional, we fell short,” Taft tells TomDispatch. The U.S., she says, failed to do the necessary heavy lifting to encourage the building of a shared national identity and sat on its hands when targeted interventions might have helped reverse worrisome developments in South Sudan.
Still, the U.S. repeatedly pledged unyielding support for the struggling young nation. In August 2012, for example, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking in Juba, was emphatic that the U.S. “commitment to this new nation is enduring and absolute in terms of assistance and aid and support going forward.” A year later, announcing the appointment of Donald Booth as President Obama’s Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, made special reference to America’s “enduring commitment” to the South Sudanese people.
Lately, however, words like “enduring and absolute” have been replaced by the language of limits. Speaking in Juba just days before the July Christmas party, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne Richard drew attention to the fact that the U.S. had given generously to South Sudan, but that such assistance would be of little use if the war continues. “There is a limit to how much aid can be provided in a year with so many crises around the world,” she said.
That doesn’t bode well for those already going hungry and those who will be affected by the coming famine, forecast by some to be the worst since Ethiopia’s in the 1980s. Here, limits equal lives lost. A $1.8 billion U.N. aid operation designed to counter the immediate, life-threatening needs of the worst affected South Sudanese is currently just 50% funded, according to Amanda Weyler of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in South Sudan. She explains that "any shortfall in funding potentially means that we cannot save lives of people that we may otherwise have been able to help.”
In a statement emailed to TomDispatch, Anne Richard acknowledged this very point, though she couched it in the language of “needs,” not lives. She put the blame on South Sudan’s warring factions while lamenting the plethora of crises around the world. “Even if Congress again funds our budget so that we can provide a solid share of support to aid organizations and U.N. appeals, we can’t cover them completely and other donor countries will also be stretched. At some point, we may see reports of food and water shortages and healthcare needs going unaddressed,” she wrote. “Ultimately, these crises are man-made and will not be alleviated until the fighting stops.”
Do They Know It’s Christmastime At All?
It’s an overcast day, but the sun is strong behind the clouds and it’s bright inside the white tent of the Médecins Sans Frontières field hospital. It’s also hot. One of several large, aged metal fans pushes the heavy, humid air around these cramped quarters as the staff moves purposefully from patient to patient, checking progress, dispensing medicine, providing instructions. Children cry and shriek, babble and laugh, and cough and cough and cough.
A scrawny black and white cat slips through a maze of legs moving from the rudimentary pharmacy to the examination room past the bed where Nyajuma sits. She’s putting on weight, 2.5 pounds since her arrival and so, for her, things are looking somewhat better. But as the country plunges into famine, how many other Nyajumas will arrive here and find there’s not enough food, not enough medicine, too few doctors? How many others will never make it and simply die in the bush?
“When there’s a clash, when the conflict starts, it’s in the news every day. Then we start to forget about it. In South Sudan, the needs are only getting bigger, even bigger than in the beginning,” MSF’s Javier Roldan tells me. “When the conflict becomes chronic, the situation deteriorates. Food access is getting even more difficult. Fewer donors are providing money, so the situation for civilians is deteriorating day by day.”
That embassy party in Juba seems light years away, not just in another state but another world -- a world where things in Malakal don’t seem so bad. It’s a world where choice cuts of beef sizzle and cold lager flows and the pool looks cool and inviting, a world where limits on aid are hard realities to be dispassionately explained and cursorily lamented, not death sentences to be suffered.
From Iraq to Afghanistan, American-style nation building has crumbled, exposing the limits of American power. Before things are over in South Sudan, Washington’s great experiment in Africa may prove to be the most disastrous effort of all. Just three years after this country’s independence, two years after Hillary Clinton stood in this city and pledged enduring and absolute assistance, at a time when its people are most in need, the U.S. is talking about limits on aid, about backing away from the country it fostered, its prime example of nation-building-in-action in the heart of Africa. The effects will be felt from Juba to Jonglei, Bor to Bentiu, Malek to Malakal.
If things continue as they have, by the time the U.S. Embassy throws its actual Christmas bash, the civil war in South Sudan will have entered its second year and large swaths of the country might be months into a man-made famine abetted by an under-funded humanitarian response -- and it’s the most vulnerable, like Nyajuma, who will bear the brunt of the crisis. Experts are currently debating if -- or when -- famine can be declared. Doing so will exert additional pressure on funders and no doubt save lives, so a declaration can’t come fast enough for Kate Donovan of UNICEF in South Sudan. “Waiting for data to be crunched in order to make sure all the numbers add up to famine is deadly for small children,” she says. “It is like ringing fire alarms when the building is already burnt to the ground.”
If history is any guide and projections of 50,000 child malnutrition fatalities are accurate, the outlook for South Sudan is devastating. What Donovan tells me should make Washington -- and the rest of the world -- sit up and take notice: “Half the kids may already be dead by the time famine is actually declared.”
Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch.com and a fellow at the Nation Institute. A 2014 Izzy Award winner, he has reported from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa and his pieces have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. He is the author most recently of the New York Times bestseller Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. This story is the second in a series of on-the-ground reports from Africa pursued in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. Additional funding was provided through the generosity of Adelaide Gomer.
Copyright 2014 Nick Turse
By Fr. Atta Barkindo
In the 1970s and 1980s, at the height of Nigeria’s post-oil-discovery wealth and power, Nigerians could walk the streets of the major northern cities of Kaduna, Jos, Kano and Maiduguri without a concern, unhurried and unharmed. Today, public spaces, from churches to restaurants and cafes in these cities send very real frissons of fear down the spines of everyday people, a fear unalleviated by the decidedly ineffective security apparatus. As Wanjohi Kabukuru, a veteran Kenyan journalist writing for New African Magazine puts it, “these cities have lost their innocence.” Thanks to Boko Haram, a militant group terrorizing Nigeria’s Northeastern region, some cities seem to have lost their innocence forever. As Nigerians grow weary of military intervention and other violent options in countering the suffering caused by Boko Haram, local peacebuilding groups are emerging as far more efficient in this regard – tackling structural issues like poverty and illiteracy to reduce the allure of groups like Boko Haram.
Records show that since 2009, Boko Haram has been orchestrating a vicious circle of violence in the Northeast; violence that has led to the death of more than 3,000 people. The abduction of 276 female students from Chibok Government Girls Secondary School on April 14, 2014 represents the morally-lowest height, thus far, of its “achievements.” As Cameron Duodu of New African Magazine noted, the “night Chibok’s name entered world history is not one that any of the abducted girls or any of their close relatives will ever want to remember.”
And yet how can they ever forget it? The speed of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign and the sheer audacity of Boko Haram propelled the American intervention intended for the rescue of the stolen girls. Initially, the American intervention inspired a sense of hope and genuine expectation in an atmosphere already invaded by despair and desperation, particularly around Chibok. The snail’s pace of the Nigerian government forced some parents to organize their own search. One of the parents declared, “All Nigerians are civilians, Americans are the real soldiers.”
Currently, many Nigerians have a slightly less rosy perception of the American intervention. Bunmi Olusona, a social commentator based in Lagos argues that the United States and most European countries do not have impressive records in terms of intervention, especially in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Congo; on occasion, those interventions have ended up precipitating civil wars.
In addition, some Kaduna-based clerics argue that the American intervention in Chibok will simply pull further at an already polarized society. They are already calling the American intervention an invasion of Islamic territory by “Christian crusaders” from America.
While the American intervention continues to divide opinions, Northern Nigeria remains the poorest region of the country. Poverty and illiteracy rates, deforestation, internal migration, corruption and infrastructure problems are rising. Military intervention won’t help these issues – it will only increase them and, in turn, increase the allure of fundamentalist activities.
As such, attention must be given to local peace initiatives ongoing in the region. Worthy of mention is the Wauru-Jabbe/Kofare Peace and Development Initiative in Jimeta-Yola, Adamawa State. Started in 2005 by Rev. Sr. Agnes Hannon, an Irish nun of the Mercy Sisters congregation, this program targets men and women from all backgrounds who have lost out on Westernized education. They are taught how to read and write and trained on the use of computers, internet and other mobile services to enable them to effectively participate in Nigeria’s fast changing economy.
Following the intensity of the Boko Haram conflict, the initiative carried out a “Listening Survey” to determine the burning issues affecting the community, as described by the community. To combat the greater problems of health care and poverty, the program was reshaped as the Peace and Development Initiative to achieve peaceful co-existence and create opportunities that would accommodate those who feel excluded and may be tempted to join violent groups.
Currently, the adult literacy school has almost 500 adult students (both men and women), 15 part-time teachers and two part-time administrators. The computer literacy training offers certificates in typing, general computer knowledge, and a Computer Diploma. This program has great potential in turning around Nigerian means of livelihood, making terrorism less attractive and empowering them to participate in the ever changing Nigerian economy. Already, lives are changing!
Thus, as a matter of policy, Americans should recognize that it is important to provide non-military services that will unite local communities rather than divide them. Programs such as the Wauro-Jabbe/Kofare Peace and Development Initiative should be at the core of any intervention. Even if Nigerians are not real soldiers, they could be real peacemakers.
Fr. Atta Barkindo is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Politics and International Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, a Research Fellow for Open Doors International, and a Fellow of The Citizenship Initiative, University of South Florida. Article originally published at Insight on Conflict and distributed by PeaceVoice.
To contact Bartolo email peaceloversingle_at_gmail.com (replacing _at_ with @)
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Militarily, Africa is fast becoming an American continent. Barack Obama, who has been president for all but the first year of AFRICOM’s existence, has succeeded in integrating U.S. fighting units, bases, training regimens, equipment and financing into the military structures of all but a handful of African nations. The great pan-Africanist and former Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah’s dream of a militarily united Africa has been all but realized – with Americans and Europeans in charge. Under the guise of “humanitarian” intervention, Obama has vastly expanded Bill Clinton and George Bush’s African footprints, so that only a few patches on the continental map lie outside Washington’s sphere of operations. Eritrea and Zimbabwe are the notable exceptions – and, therefore, future targets.
Africa is occupied territory. The African Union doesn’t even pretend to be in charge of its own nominal peace-keeping missions, which are little more than opportunities for African militaries to get paid for doing the West’s bidding. China and Brazil may be garnering the lion’s share of trade with Africa, but the men with the guns are loyal to AFRICOM – the sugar daddy to the continent’s military class. U.S. troops now sleep in African barracks, brothers in arms with African officers who can determine who will sleep next week in the presidential mansion.
The pace of U.S. penetration of West Africa has quickened dramatically since 2011, when Obama bombed Muammar Gaddafi’s Libyan government out of existence, setting a flood of jihadists and weapons streaming east to Syria and south to destabilize the nations of the Sahel. Chaos ensued – beautiful chaos, if you are a U.S. military planner seeking justification for ever-larger missions. NATO’s aggression against Libya begat the sub-Saharan chaos that justified the French and U.S. occupation of Mali and Niger. Hyperactive North African jihadists, empowered by American bombs, weapons and money, trained and outfitted their brethren on the continent, including elements of Nigeria’s Boko Haram. The Yoruba-speaking Islamic warriors then bequeathed AFRICOM a priceless gift: nearly 300 schoolgirls in need of rescuing, perfect fodder for “humanitarian” intervention.
Nobody had to ask twice that Obama “Do something!”
The heads of Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Benin and Cameroon were summoned to Paris (pretending it was their idea) where they declared “total war” on Boko Haram, as “observers” from the U.S., France, Britain and the European Union (Africa’s past and future stakeholders) looked on. French President Francois Hollande said “a global and regional action plan” would come out of the conference.
“The heads of Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Benin and Cameroon were summoned to Paris where they declared ‘total war’ on Boko Haram.”
Of course, the five African states have neither the money, training, equipment nor intelligence gathering capacity for such a plan. It will be a Euro-American plan for the defense and security of West Africa – against other Africans. Immediately, the U.S. sent 80 troops to Chad (whose military has long been a mercenary asset of France) to open up a new drone base, joining previously existing U.S. drone fields in Niger, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Somalia, the Seychelles Islands, Djibouti (home to a huge French and American base), and CIA sites that need not be disclosed.
The new West African security grouping became an instant imprint of NATO, an appendage to be shaped by imperial military planners to confront enemies chosen by Washington and Paris.
What a miracle of humanitarian military momentum! The girls had only been missing for a month, and might not be rescued alive, but five neighboring African countries – one of them the biggest economy on the continent – had already been dragooned into a NATO-dominated military alliance with other subordinate African states.
It soon turned out that AFRICOM already had a special relationship with the Nigerian military that was not announced until after the schoolgirls’ abduction. AFRICOM will train a battalion of Nigerian Rangers in counterinsurgency warfare, the first time that the Command has provided “full spectrum” training to Africans on such a scale.
With the American public in a “Save our girls” interventionist frame of mind, operations that were secret suddenly became public. The New York Times reveals that the U.S. has been running a secret program to train counterterrorism battalions for Niger and Mauritania. Elite Green Berets and Delta Force killers are instructing handpicked commandos in counterinsurgency in Mali, as well. The identity of one Times source leaves little doubt that the previously secret operations are designed to blanket the region with U.S. trained death squads. Michael Sheehan was until last year in charge of Special Operations at the Pentagon – Death Squads Central – where he pushed for more Special Ops trainers for African armies. Sheehan now holds the “distinguished chair” at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. In the 1980s, he was a Special Forces commander in Latin America – which can only mean death squads.
“AFRICOM will train a battalion of Nigerian Rangers in counterinsurgency warfare.”
U.S. Army Special Forces have always been political killers, most often operating with the CIA. The Phoenix Program, in Vietnam, which murdered between 26,000 and 41,000 people and tortured many more, was a CIA-Special Forces war crime. From 1975 to deep into the 80s, the CIA and its Special Forces muscle provided technical support and weapons to killers for Operation Condor, the death squads run by a consortium of military governments in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil, believed responsible for 60,000 murders. Sheehan was probably involved in Operation Condor and its Central American component, Operation Charly, and has perfected the art of political murder, ever since. If he is happy and feeling vindicated by events in Africa, then U.S.-trained death squads are about to proliferate in that part of the world.
There is no question that Obama is enamored of Special Ops, since small unit murders by professional killers at midnight look less like war – and can, if convenient, be blamed on (other) “terrorists.” However, history – recent history – proves the U.S. can get away with almost limitless carnage in Africa. Ethiopia’s 2006 invasion of Somalia, backed by U.S. forces on land, air and sea, resulted in “the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa” at the time, “worse than Darfur,” according to UN observers, with hundreds of thousands dead. The U.S. then withheld food aid to starve out Somali Shabaab fighters, leading to even more catastrophic loss of life. But, most Americans are oblivious to such crimes against Black humanity.
U.S. ally Ethiopia commits genocide against ethnic Somalis in its Ogaden region with absolute impunity, and bars the international media from the region. Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama – each of them with help from Susan Rice – have collectively killed six million Congolese since 1996. The greatest genocide since World War Two was the premeditated result of the chaos deliberately imposed on mineral-rich Congo by the U.S. and its henchmen in neighboring Rwanda and Uganda. Paul Kagame, the current leader of Rwanda, shot down a plane with two presidents aboard in 1994, sparking the mass killings that brought Kagame to power and started neighboring Congo on the road to hell. America celebrates Kagame as a hero, although the Tutsi tribal dictator sends death squads all over the world to snuff out those who oppose him.
“The U.S. can get away with almost limitless carnage in Africa.”
Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni, a friend of the U.S. since Ronald Reagan, committed genocidal acts against his rivals from the Acholi tribe, throwing them into concentration camps. Joseph Kony was one of these Acholis, who apparently went crazy. Kony hasn’t been a threat to Uganda or any other country in the region for years, but President Obama used a supposed sighting of remnants of his Lords Resistance Army to send 100 Green Berets to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan. Just last month, Obama sent 150 more troops and four aircraft to central Africa, again claiming that Kony was lurking, somewhere.
Actually, the American troops were deployed near South Sudan, which the U.S, Britain and Israel had destabilized for decades in an effort to split it off from the larger nation of Sudan. South Sudan became independent, but it remained unstable – not a nation, but a place with oil that the U.S. coveted. Many tens of thousands more are certain to die in fighting in South Sudan, but few Americans will blame their own country.
As the carnage in Congo demonstrates, whole populations can be made to disappear in Africa without most people in the West noticing. The death squads the Americans are training in Nigeria, Niger, Mauretania and Mali, and those that will soon be stalking victims in Cameroon and Benin, will not be limited to hunting Boko Haram. Death squads are, by definition, destabilizing; they poison the political and social environment beyond repair, as Central Americans who lived through the 80s can attest.
Yet, that is U.S. imperialism’s preferred method of conquest in the non-white world. It’s what the Americans actually do, when folks demand that they “Do something.”
Look who’s calling voting ‘divisive’ and ‘illegal’: The Blood-soaked US Has No Business Opposing Sovereignty Plebiscites
By Dave Lindorff
The rot at the core of US international relations, domestic politics and the corporate media is evident in the American approach to the Ukraine crisis.
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By John Grant
I met Janet Burroway when I was a Vietnam veteran on the GI Bill at Florida State University and I signed up for a creative writing workshop she was just hired to teach. She was a worldly, published novelist seven years older than me. She had just left an oppressive husband, a Belgian, who was an important theater director in London where she’d been to parties with the likes of Samuel Beckett. I graduate in 1973, and in a turn of events that still amazes me, I asked her out and ended up living with her for a couple years. She had two beautiful boys, Tim, 9, and Toby, 6, who I grew to love.
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
The subtitle of the newly released documentary film Big Men is "everyone wants to be big" and to say the film covers a "big" topic is to put it mildly.
Executive produced by Brad Pitt and directed by Rachel Boynton, the film cuts to the heart of how the oil and gas industry works and pushes film-watchers to think about why that's the case. Ghana's burgeoning offshore fields — in particular, the Jubilee Field discovered in 2007 by Kosmos Energy — serve as the film's case study.
By Linn Washington Jr.
Shenid Bhayroo was one of the thousand-plus journalists that traveled to South Africa in December 2013 to cover the death of iconic South African leader Nelson Mandela, the former political prisoner and first black president of the southern-most nation on the African continent.
Most of those journalists representing nations worldwide covering the memorial activities for Mandela, reporting on the ‘mood’ in that country, missed the mood Bhayroo saw among many South Africans.
Urge the ending of war these days and you'll very quickly hear two words: "Hitler" and "Rwanda." While World War II killed some 70 million people, it's the killing of some 6 to 10 million (depending on who's included) that carries the name Holocaust. Never mind that the United States and its allies refused to help those people before the war or to halt the war to save them or to prioritize helping them when the war ended -- or even to refrain from letting the Pentagon hire some of their killers. Never mind that saving the Jews didn't become a purpose for WWII until long after the war was over. Propose eliminating war from the world and your ears will ring with the name that Hillary Clinton calls Vladimir Putin and that John Kerry calls Bashar al Assad.
Get past Hitler, and shouts of "We must prevent another Rwanda!" will stop you in your tracks, unless your education has overcome a nearly universal myth that runs as follows. In 1994, a bunch of irrational Africans in Rwanda developed a plan to eliminate a tribal minority and carried out their plan to the extent of slaughtering over a million people from that tribe -- for purely irrational motivations of tribal hatred. The U.S. government had been busy doing good deeds elsewhere and not paying enough attention until it was too late. The United Nations knew what was happening but refused to act, due to its being a large bureaucracy inhabited by weak-willed non-Americans. But, thanks to U.S. efforts, the criminals were prosecuted, refugees were allowed to return, and democracy and European enlightenment were brought belatedly to the dark valleys of Rwanda.
Something like this myth is in the minds of those who shout for attacks on Libya or Syria or the Ukraine under the banner of "Not another Rwanda!" The thinking would be hopelessly sloppy even if based on facts. The idea that SOMETHING was needed in Rwanda morphs into the idea that heavy bombing was needed in Rwanda which slides effortlessly into the idea that heavy bombing is needed in Libya. The result is the destruction of Libya. But the argument is not for those who pay attention to what was happening in and around Rwanda before or since 1994. It's a momentary argument meant to apply only to a moment. Never mind why Gadaffi was transformed from a Western ally into a Western enemy, and never mind what the war left behind. Pay no attention to how World War I was ended and how many wise observers predicted World War II at that time. The point is that a Rwanda was going to happen in Libya (unless you look at the facts too closely) and it did not happen. Case closed. Next victim.
Edward Herman highly recommends a book by Robin Philpot called Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa: From Tragedy to Useful Imperial Fiction, and so do I. Philpot opens with U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's comment that "the genocide in Rwanda was one hundred percent the responsibility of the Americans!" How could that be? Americans are not to blame for how things are in backward parts of the world prior to their "interventions." Surely Mr. double Boutros has got his chronology wrong. Too much time spent in those U.N. offices with foreign bureaucrats no doubt. And yet, the facts -- not disputed claims but universally agreed upon facts that are simply deemphasized by many -- say otherwise.
The United States backed an invasion of Rwanda on October 1, 1990, by a Ugandan army led by U.S.-trained killers, and supported their attack on Rwanda for three-and-a-half years. The Rwandan government, in response, did not follow the model of the U.S. internment of Japanese during World War II, or of U.S. treatment of Muslims for the past 12 years. Nor did it fabricate the idea of traitors in its midst, as the invading army in fact had 36 active cells of collaborators in Rwanda. But the Rwandan government did arrest 8,000 people and hold them for a few days to six-months. Africa Watch (later Human Rights Watch/Africa) declared this a serious violation of human rights, but had nothing to say about the invasion and war. Alison Des Forges of Africa Watch explained that good human rights groups "do not examine the issue of who makes war. We see war as an evil and we try to prevent the existence of war from being an excuse for massive human rights violations."
The war killed many people, whether or not those killings qualified as human rights violations. People fled the invaders, creating a huge refugee crisis, ruined agriculture, wrecked economy, and shattered society. The United States and the West armed the warmakers and applied additional pressure through the World Bank, IMF, and USAID. And among the results of the war was increased hostility between Hutus and Tutsis. Eventually the government would topple. First would come the mass slaughter known as the Rwandan Genocide. And before that would come the murder of two presidents. At that point, in April 1994, Rwanda was in chaos almost on the level of post-liberation Iraq or Libya.
One way to have prevented the slaughter would have been to not support the war. Another way to have prevented the slaughter would have been to not support the assassination of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi on April 6, 1994. The evidence points strongly to the U.S.-backed and U.S.-trained war-maker Paul Kagame -- now president of Rwanda -- as the guilty party. While there is no dispute that the presidents' plane was shot down, human rights groups and international bodies have simply referred in passing to a "plane crash" and refused to investigate.
A third way to have prevented the slaughter, which began immediately upon news of the presidents' assassinations, might have been to send in U.N. peacekeepers (not the same thing as Hellfire missiles, be it noted), but that was not what Washington wanted, and the U.S. government worked against it. What the Clinton administration was after was putting Kagame in power. Thus the resistance to calling the slaughter a "genocide" (and sending in the U.N.) until blaming that crime on the Hutu-dominated government became seen as useful. The evidence assembled by Philpot suggests that the "genocide" was not so much planned as erupted following the shooting down of the plane, was politically motivated rather than simply ethnic, and was not nearly as one-sided as generally assumed.
Moreover, the killing of civilians in Rwanda has continued ever since, although the killing has been much more heavy in neighboring Congo, where Kagame's government took the war -- with U.S. aid and weapons and troops -- and bombed refugee camps killing some million people. The excuse for going into the Congo has been the hunt for Rwandan war criminals. The real motivation has been Western control and profits. War in the Congo has continued to this day, leaving some 6 million dead -- the worst killing since the 70 million of WWII. And yet nobody ever says "We must prevent another Congo!"
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
Photo Credit: Getty Images
In a long-awaited moment in a hotly contested zone currently occupied by the Russian military, Ukraine's citizens living in the peninsula of Crimea voted overwhelmingly to become part of Russia.
ColdType issue 83 is now available at www.coldtype.net - 84 pages, plus a 14-page photo essay from South Africa by Duncan Mangham
I still want Dirty Wars to win the Oscar, but The Square is a documentary worth serious discussion as we hit the three-year point since the famous occupation of Tahrir Square in Cairo that overthrew Mubarak -- in particular because a lot of people seem to get a lot of the lessons wrong.
I suppose some people will leave Dirty Wars imagining that we need clean wars, whatever those would be. But too many people seem to be drawing from The Square lessons they brought with them to it, including these: Thou shalt have a leader; thou shalt work within a major political party; thou shalt have an identifiable group of individuals ready to take power. I don't think following these commandments would have easily changed the past three years in Egypt; I don't think they're where Egyptians should be heading; and I'm even more confident they're blind alleys in the United States -- where they serve as supposed remedies for the supposed failings of Occupy.
Many lessons that might be drawn from The Square seem right to me. Did the people leave the square too early? Hell yes. Was the movement divided when the Muslim Brotherhood sought to claim victory exclusively for itself and not for all of the people of Egypt? Of course it was. Let that be a lesson to us indeed. We agree, virtually all of us in the U.S., on a lot of needed reforms. We're all getting collectively screwed. But we divide ourselves over stupid petty stuff, irrelevant stuff, secondary stuff -- cultural issues, ideologies, superficial identities, and -- yes -- big-name leaders (think how many opponents of militarism and Big Brother you could agree with if they weren't "Ron Paulers"). Preferring one tyrant to another because of their religion or race is not a flaw the Egyptians have a monopoly on (think of all the Christian support for Bush and African-American support for Obama).
Was trusting the military a horrible idea? No. It wasn't a horrible idea. It was the most catastrophically stupendously stupid notion ever to enter a human skull. Militaries don't support people. People support militaries through their useful and exploited labor. Costa Rica had to disband its military to stop having coups. When a military exists, appealing to the humanity of its individual members is wise indeed. But expecting the military as a whole to be democratic to the point of handing over power before it's compelled to do so is decidedly foolish. None of which is to say the Egyptians have had much choice or that their project is yet completed. Between them and us the question of which group is learning faster is no contest at all.
Do the people of Egypt need a Constitution rather than a pharaoh? Yes, absolutely. Does the Occupy movement need demands? Yes, of course it does. Must we all create an ongoing culture of nonviolent action? Yes, sir-ee. While The Square doesn't explicitly make the point, would better nonviolent discipline help? Undoubtedly. Is the key lesson to never give up? Indeed. All of these lessons should soak in deep.
But other points are less clear, in both The Square and common discussions of Egyptian revolution. Tahrir Square didn't begin in 2011, and neither did the Muslim Brotherhood. The foundations for the popular movement and for the religious party were laid over a period of years. Foundations are being laid for nonviolent revolution in other places now.
Did the Egyptians fail? And did they fail because they are great protesters but bad democrats who should be condescended to by enlightened Americans? No. First, it isn't over. Second, the United States has a failed system of government itself, as 80-90 percent of the people here have been telling pollsters for years. Third, although I caught only one very quick little hint at it in The Square, the major financial and military backer of the brutal, corrupt regimes in Egypt -- before Tahrir and since -- is the United States government. To the extent that Egyptians have failed they've failed with our help. And whether we're unaware of the billions of dollars of our grandchildren's unearned wages that we give to Egyptian thugs to assault the Egyptian people every year, or aware and unable to do anything about it -- either way, our democracy hardly shines out as a model for the world.
A leader would have divided the Tahrir movement or the Occupy movement. That we don't think of ourselves as having leaders is a function of the corporate media giving no microphones to people who favor major improvements to the world. Ironically, just like coverage of New York Police Department brutality, this helps us to build a stronger movement. That is to say, it helps us in so far as it allows a movement not focused on a leader. Yes, we'd be much stronger with major media coverage, but the possible development of leaders recognized and named as such would be a downside. And a successful movement behind a leader would only be able to put that leader into power if it succeeded far beyond where Egypt arrived in 2011 -- and it would only be able to get that leader back out of power again if it succeeded even further.
Is the lesson of Tahrir that Occupiers should back candidates in the Democratic Party? Is an organized party that can challenge the Muslim Brotherhood or the Democrats the answer? Not within a corrupt system it isn't. When our goal is not a better regime but something approaching democracy, then what's needed is the nonviolent imposition of democracy on whatever individuals are in power, and the development of a culture of eternal vigilance to maintain it. You can't elect your way out of a system of corrupt elections. You can't impose a group of populist leaders on a government by coup d'etat and then write a democratic constitution afterwards.
No, that is not what happened in the United States, and not just because the old government got on ships and sailed away, but because the Constitution was fundamentally anti-democratic. The United States has gained democracy through nonviolent movements of public pressure, imposed reforms, amendments, court rulings, and the changing of the culture. Reforms are needed more badly than ever now, and whether they're imposed at the federal level or through the states or through secession, they must come through popular nonviolent pressure, as bullets and ballots are virtually helpless here.
The lesson I take away from The Square is that we must prevent the operation of business as usual until the institution itself, not its face, is fixed. We can put up giant posters of a black man followed by a white woman followed by some other demographic symbol, but the posters will still be on the walls of prisons, barracks, and homeless shelters, unless we fix the structure of things. That means:
- Rights for people, and for the natural environment, not for corporations.
- Spending money on elections is not a human right of free speech.
- Elections entirely publicly financed.
- The right to vote, to have time off work to vote, and to vote on a paper ballot publicly counted at the polling place.
- Free air time, ballot access, and debate participation to all candidates who have collected sufficient signatures of potential constituents.
- A citizens branch and public initiative power by signature collection.
- The application of criminal laws to authorities who commit crimes or abuse their office.
- Mandatory impeachment and recall votes for officials facing prosecution.
- The right to a decent income, housing, healthcare, education, peace, a healthy environment, and freedom from debt.
- The rights of the natural environment to continue and thrive.
- The institution of minimum and maximum wages and a ban on extreme wealth.
- Dismantling of the prison industry.
Give me all of that or give me death. Take your bullshit rhetoric about "liberty" and name a square after it.