Monthly Archives: December 2010

Protecting African Economic Growth From Global Predators

A reader of this blog made the observation that they couldn’t find in its content anything referring to the rising continent, or the lions on the move, which both connotations are defining terms for our online outlet as one can see at the top of this screen. The reply was that the focus had so far been on one central aspect of African characteristics, which is as important as seeing the entire continent rising and progressing towards better pastures.

As that reader, and any other who might have similar concerns, may probably agree, respecting human rights is part of the defining elements of societies which are today characterized by better life standards, particularly in material terms and available opportunities of improving people’s lives. There are obviously exceptions where you have countries with high GDP per capita but experiencing poor record of human rights. This does not dismiss the fact that the general rule is that economic development and respect of human rights go hand in hand.

In the last 40 years, the United Nations for Development Programme reports that Africa development has been very slow; some few countries have even registered absolute regression. But during the last decade there has been a significant shift, and by that contradicting the usual pessimistic picture that paints the continent. At the opposite of such a positive trend from a continent nothing good is generally expected, at the global scene, the financial crisis of 2007/8 saw most developed governments pulling trillions of dollars or Euros into their banking systems, in order to avoid the collapse of Capitalism. One of the consequences of the crisis was a quite significant reduction of sources of revenues for developed countries to address their needs for investment and economic growth.

Developed countries are currently experiencing drastic budget cuts across the board. The reality right now is about being able to face payment of public debts in a context of slow economic recovery. Consequently, it has been wise for some governments including Britain, to take the bull by its horns, and cut back on not necessary expenses but only those that don’t kill. While economic recovery is still stagnant globally, every developed economy is particularly looking at alternative channels to add value to their balance sheet.  In that quest, Africa as always is seen by many as one that could be the answer.

African economic prospects have been changing drastically in recent years. The momentum of the observable change took by surprise non informed observers. Interested watchers collected facts about the continent which should objectively prompt a complete shift from the usual pessimistic portrayal of the continent. In May 2010 Boston Consulting Group identified across the continent 40 companies which are making annual turnovers varying between 380 millions and 80 billions of dollars. McKinsey Global Institute on its part reported in June 2010 that, ‘Africa’s economic pulse has quickened, infusing the continent with a new commercial vibrancy. Real GDP rose 4.9 percent per year from 2000 through 2008, more than twice its pace in the 1980s and 90s. Telecom, banking, and retail are flourishing. Construction is booming. Foreign investment is surging.

What may happen? For some more years, Africa will continue to be the source of raw material: oil, rare and strategic minerals. But with the increase of the working class population, consequent to existing and emerging business opportunities on the continent, Africans will be more a consumer market than a supplier bloc for the rest of the world. Deficits in external commercial balances will increase more than they have been so far as long as governments on the continent will not be responsible enough to think strategically in the interests of their citizens. Developed countries are aggressively tapping into current African opportunities individually and as economic blocs. Henry Berlingham, UK Minister for Africa, explained recently that business offensive towards Africa at Lancaster House. ‘I am on track to visit all 53 states in Africa by our next elections in 2015! These trips allow me to see firsthand the challenges and opportunities facing Africa,’ he pointed out to the attention of his audience. By the time of his speech on 16th December 2010, the minister had already visited Uganda, Sudan, Libya, DRC, Kenya, South Africa and Angola.

Important considerations – As opposed to previous historical periods where the rest of the world was interested in Africa for its riches, Africans shouldn’t let themselves marched over this time as Americano-Indians or Aborigines of Australia who got nearly eradicated as communities. This may seem to be an exaggerated picture of the future of Africa. But if African children continue to be exposed to Hollywood movies though they don’t have access to education or clean water, consequences could be dramatic for the continent. Or if the continent continues to be led by self centred strongmen without particular interest in the well being of the people they lead, present economic opportunities that Africa has may be wasted. Unfortunately, they may not come around again for a very long time.

Allegiances to international financial institutions such as World Bank or International Monetary Fund should cease. It has emerged that these institutions are there to enslave Africans countries economically and financially. At the time when developed countries are favouring private investment, what works for them and has been tested over time, should be extensively applied in the case of African countries. There are numerous positive cases across the continent which should be emulated.

Ingenuity and new skills will need to be given prominence as countries will have to become less dependent on gimmicks of international aid which have kept most of them far behind their real potential development. Education (not selective and discriminatory as practiced in some countries) will need to be the pillar of the new era of the continent’s economic rise in the global market.

Pitfalls can be avoided. If enough willingness to take advantage of available opportunities is there, chances exist that the continent could effectively make a giant step towards its sustainable development. Below are some actions which are being tested or need being undertaken to optimise the current trajectory that Africa has embarked on for a few years now

  • Stopping countries from addressing individually problems which transcend national boundaries
  • Having common policies on infrastructures, industries, business contracts, human resources, technology, etc, and shared benefits
  • Ensuring that African opportunities are negotiated at their right and not discounted or distorted value because of lack of accountability and transparency from countries’ representatives
  • Operating as One Africa avoiding to succumb at the mercy of global predators; African Union and Regional Economic Communities and other continental specialised institutions could for example develop and produce best practices in all major sectors of development that individual countries could use as guides/ directives
  • Developing and operating cartels of specialised suppliers of specific commodities
  • Adding value to products through industrial processing – the example of China is well significant to learn from
  • Promoting African local sourcing and incentivising home grown producers and suppliers
  • Learning from what other economic blocs across the world are doing in specific areas of development
  • Developing African pools of funds from revenues coming from increased incomes that new structures of generating wealth create; these pools would aim to address continental issues such as investments in transport networks connecting several countries; strengthening the unification of the continent
  • Making the African Diaspora around the world an important component in the process of maximising outcomes from available opportunities on the continent

It would look shameful for Africa to miss out on opportunities the continent has at the moment of economic growth, which are making the usual global predators of riches around the world keener to grab them at the expense of African people. There are things people cannot control in their lives. African current economic positive prospects are in the people’s reach. Not taking charge and assuming more responsibility will historically be judged accordingly. No excuses will be permitted in the case of failure.

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Resisting AFRICOM, the US military occupation strategy for Africa

Most if not all empires of the past have historically managed to conquer and maintain their rule over territories by using their military power. After World War II, when U.S. and USSR emerged as the main global powers militarily, the world got divided into two spheres of influence aligned along their respective support. With the collapse of communism, U.S. found itself the only military superpower around. The situation prompted visibly a U.S. foreign policy geared to occupy territories lost by the traditional protagonist. At great extent the policy went as far as bringing under strong influence countries which were even traditionally seen primarily under old Europe stewardship.

Like past empires, U.S. are using towards the African continent strategies which proved their efficiency. Clare Burges Watson describes in ‘Silk Route Adventure’ what a famous Mongolian Emperor was capable of achieving through such military ingenuity. ‘Genghis Khan organized his army in such a way that it cut across traditional clan loyalties. Those he conquered were split into different regiments, organized on a decimal basis. The tradition of absolute clan loyalty in Mongolia did not apply in peace-time. In order to prevent his newly-acquired army from simply disintegrating in the steppe, it was necessary to create a perpetual state of war. A sharp fall in the average temperature of Mongolia and the subsequent deterioration in the quality of grazing land may have made the search for pasture a motive for conquest.’

With the annihilation of communism, exclusivity of influence from ex-colonial powers to certain parts of the world also ended. The process became absolutely apparent in the early 90s. For example, countries which for decades had been marginal in their rapport with U.S. became major targets for the military only superpower of the globe. Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo have for the last twenty years been the theaters of the consequences of such interest from the U.S. Put aside that perspective of not respecting old traditions in terms of zones of influence, it is interesting to note that conflict situations will be probably created, sustained and fuelled to justify AFRICOM policy, instead of searching and solving root causes of issues. This is where we see everywhere on the African continent, military options overtaking any other peaceful approaches be it political or even dialogue between opposing factions.

Contrary to the official line of strengthening African people’s security, the real motives of AFRICOM need being well understood by everyone interested or concerned. Rick Rozoff explains that the U.S. is on a course of a new colonialism, which through its highest military structure, the Pentagon, is carving Africa into military zones, along the existing five African economic regions. ‘The U.S. is not dragging almost every nation in Africa into its military network because of altruism or concerns for the security of the continent’s people. AFRICOM’s function is that of every predatory military power: the threat and use of armed violence to gain economic and geopolitical advantages,’ he points out.

Rozoff adds that, ‘There are economic and strategic incentives to bringing more security [for example] to the Congo, which is rich in natural resources such as cobalt, a key component in the manufacturing of cell phones and other electronics. The country contains 80 percent of the world’s cobalt reserves….An April 2009 report to Congress by the National Defense Stockpile Center made clear that ensuring access to mineral markets around the world is of vital interest to national security.’ It could be objectively understood that each nation must care about its security as effectively as possible. But why this does have always to be at the expense of sometime shredding human rights of people of other nations and in some cases supporting regimes which are slaughtering or simply abusing their people in the millions.

AFRICOM strategy appears to be borrowed from US military foreign policies of the 60s. Noam Chomsky, in ‘America’s quest for global dominance,‘ explains that during that period the Kennedy administration changed the mission of the Latin American military, effectively, from ‘hemisphere defense’ to ‘internal security.’ As a consequence, the shift was from toleration ‘of the rapacity and cruelty of the Latin American military’ to ‘direct complicity in their crimes, to support for ‘the methods of Heinrich Himmler’s extermination squads.’

As for the picture of how the policy worked on the ground with Latin American forces, Alfredo Vasquez Carrizosa, president of the Colombian Permanent Committee for Human Rights, provides a telling narrative. ‘[The Kennedy administration] took great pains to transform our regular armies into counterinsurgency brigades, accepting the new strategy of the death squads. …the National Security Doctrine … not defense against an external enemy, but a way to make the military establishment the masters of the game [with] the right to combat the internal enemy …: it is the right to fight and to exterminate social workers, trade unionists, men and women [including politicians and journalists] who are not supportive of the establishment, and who are assumed to be communist extremists [or terrorists]. And this could mean anyone,…

While receiving African Young Leaders at the White House in July 2010, Barack Obama, explained to his audience that the US in its relations with the external world was primarily after its own national interests. He was understandably right. This was in response to a question of knowing how the new intended Africa-US relationship would address protagonist issues where African and U.S. interests would seem to be opposed to each others. The American administration backing AFRICOM speedily implementation and those at the receiving end among African governments who espouse its objectives and adopt its operational mechanisms are either in denial of its impact in strengthening dictatorial regimes, or accomplices in structures of oppression of citizens and illegal or inappropriate exploitation of national resources.

People get what they deserve. Their destinies are shaped by the decisions they make. South Africans wouldn’t have ended Apartheid if they didn’t stand up against it as long as necessary to see it off. There are many historical examples to demonstrate that unwanted situations are only changed when there are people to oppose them. Be it for example slavery, or other discriminations of different sorts. Africans knowing what colonialism did to their nations and what new forms of imperialisms are doing to their people [e.g. millions of dead, looted mineral resources, western backed political and criminal leaders in the Great Lakes region] they shouldn’t shy away from raising these issues and stand together to get their people the best deal around.

Christmas Card for Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza and Bernard Ntaganda

Please add your Christmas wishes to this global online Christmas card for Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza and Bernard Ntaganda, and for the Rwandan people, and African people of the wider region, who have suffered such brutal dictatorship and exploitation for so long.

The AfrobeatRadio Collective will publish everyone’s good wishes, on AfrobeatRadio.net.

Please include names and locations, unless doing so is cause for anxiety.

Here is the link: (http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=484371464935&id=758984327&ref=mf)

UK concerned with human rights but convinced of Rwandan government efficiency

In November this year  an open letter/ petition was sent to Andrew Mitchell, UK Secretary of State for International Development, calling for immediate release of Ms Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza and other political prisoners, and a stop to impunity of Rwandan leaders for war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide. The petition highlighted the circumstances of imprisonment of the leader of FDU-Inkingi and the significance of the UN Mapping Report on atrocities committed in Democratic Republic of Congo. The document stressed as well the role that UK could play using its leverage power and help solve current stalemate of the Rwandan political situation.

Stephen O’Briean, Minister who leads on the issues raised by the petition replied on December 17th, 2010, on behalf of the Secretary of State. He explains what has been done and currently is being followed up closely. ‘In my discussions with the Rwandan Government, I regularly raise concerns about the tight controls they have placed on political rights and freedom of expression. I am following closely the legal proceedings against Ms Ingabire. It is my hope that the UN Mapping Report will be used constructively, and I am encouraging all parties to engage positively in the process.’

On the issue of human rights as daily experienced by Rwandans, the latter could be the only objective assessors of any impact of UK contribution and approach. It is quite certain they can confirm that from the Rwandan government side there has been no tangible restraint in its violations and abuses. On the contrary one could notice that UK apparent conciliatory and somehow biased attitude in favour of the regime may explain and justify Kigali’s intransigence.

As the petition had as well raised the issue of effective use of UK taxpayers’ money, considered wide scale violations and abuses of human rights by the Rwandan government, Minister O’Brien contested such assessment. ‘I do not agree that the UK investment in Rwanda is delivering poor value for money. The Rwandan Government uses development finance well. Achievements include a 30% reduction in infant mortality in just over two years, from 86 per 1,000 live births in 2005 to 62 per 1,000 births in 2007/8, and 2006. Recently, the independent body Transparency International published its Corruption Perceptions Index, which highlights that Rwanda is among the least corrupt of African countries. These achievements are considered in providing UK development aid to Rwanda.

It is strongly arguable that the figures represent the real picture for effective use of UK taxpayers’ money, knowing how the Rwandan government has along the years twisted facts and realities on the ground to project to the rest of world a trustworthy system. Without being exhaustive, it would be important to point to few events from 2010 to demonstrate that manipulative policy on the part of the Rwandan regime. Presidential elections of August 9th which were credited by Paul Kagame to be  democratic while all opposition leaders were either in prison or denied participation. Myth of gender equality because Rwanda has the biggest number of women members of parliament, when they are only used by the regime as propaganda tools to serve its political interests. Rwandan women who are members of parliament, likewise its male members, don’t have any discretionary decision on government policies.

Time and again, the overall picture confirms the fact that the future that Rwandans will have depends on how they want to shape it. They will get what they deserve. If they want to continue being ruled by a dictatorial regime, they will be. A democratic political environment which for example enables to write these lines without fear of imprisonment would however be better suited to them. It would help them achieve more than they could imagine. But to get to that stage, it is hard work which demands a lot of sacrifices. These are indeed worth taking. On earth and in life there are no free lunches.

Ms Victoire Ingabire and a family out of many without its usual Christmas

At this time of the year, families across the world come together. Whatever has been happening in personal lives, people with some close connection look forward to this period to be united and share. But particular circumstances can prohibit such reunion of family members.

In the case of Ms Victoire Ingabire, Chair of FDU-Inkingi and icon of democratic struggle in Rwanda, those who have been following her for quite sometime know well that she cannot be with her family this time. That prompted me to write to Hon Malcom Riftin, my local Member of Parliament, to whom for some time I have been explaining my concerns about Rwandan government’s human rights record for him to forward them to the UK government.

As people in normal settings, particularly those in political positions, celebrate the festive season – Christmas and New Year, it is important to make them aware that there are others whose conditions are such that normality appears to be a luxury. I have reproduced below the letter I wrote to highlight to my MP the plight of Ms Victoire Ingabire and possibly inspire anyone who feels concerned about her rights to write to their Member of Parliament or Congress.

13th December 2010

Hon Malcolm Rifkin MP
House of Commons
London
SW1A 0AA

Dear Hon Malcolm Rifkin,

I am writing to raise awareness on the case of a Rwandan mother who on January 16th, 2010 went back to her country of origin, with an intention of exercising her full human rights, and today she finds herself in prison.

The mother in question, Ms Victoire Ingabire, has three children. When her elder daughter Raissa heard her mum was imprisoned in Rwanda on October 14th, 2010 she approached the Rwandan embassy in the Netherlands where the family has been living for the last sixteen years. But she was denied any help to get her mother freed.

Victoire Ingabire, being as well leader of FDU-Inkingi, a political party that the Rwandan government fears could remove it from power if legally authorised to operate, has been accused of threatening national security then jailed through an ongoing judiciary process which seems not to care about any of her rights for fair justice.

As one of your constituents I am requesting your intervention before the Secretary of State in charge of Commonwealth and Foreign Affairs to get that woman and all other Rwandan political leaders who are in prison for the only sin of expressing or not dissent views about the government policies. UK could use its leverage position as one of the main financial supporters of the regime to put pressure for their release.

I am confident I can count on your prompt contribution to improving conditions of these Rwandan political prisoners of whom some have already spent sixteen years in prison.

I am looking forward to reading your feedback.

Sincerely yours,

Ambrose Nzeyimana