Monday, February 28, 2011

When the Global War on Terror Becomes a Global War on Democracy

Flag of the former monarchy in Libya 1951-1969

What do the tragic events currently taking place in Libya and the United States/European Union’s Global War On Terror (GWOT) have in common? … possibly the special commandos and foreign mercenaries that Kaddafi has unleashed on the large, peaceful protesters that had little choice but fight back in Zwara, Misratah and Benghazi. Please allow me to explain.

What the Global War on Terror and the fragmenting state of Libya might possibly have in common are the soldiers coming to the aid of Mummar Qaddafi, the aging leader of Libya for over 40 years now. There are the obvious loyalists of Qaddafi who possibly have received preferential treatment during his rule. These are not the link. Instead, there are various reports from Al Jazeera and other news agencies of Black African special commandos and foreign mercenaries coming from Niger, Chad and as far away as Zimbabwe. This should not be a surprise. Qaddafi for the past couple of decades has been showering West and Central African states with philanthropy in order to create a better position for Libya in the African Union and also in the larger geopolitical arena.

Now that his regime faces collapse, he is certainly calling on those countries to assist him with soldiers and equipment and what certainly is a part of his persuasiveness, rewarding these states and soldiers handsomely with beaucoup d’argent. Brace yourself because here comes the punch line. These forces that Qaddafi has called upon and are protecting him now … the ones coming from at least Niger and Chad, wearing ‘yellow hats’ by Al Jazeera’s accounts, and speaking French among each other as they hunt down protesters in Libyan cities to shoot, kill and rape may very well be the forces trained by US and European Special Forces to fight terrorism in the Sahara and Sahel. Surprise! Just like the tear gas canisters that were made in the USA and thrown into the crowds of thousands that assembled in Tahrir Square neighborhood of Cairo, Egypt, Western Nations have, once again, contributed to needless violence against a genuine democratic movement.

Before writing angry letters to Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, and Madrid, let me clarify something. If my theory rings true and these special forces Qaddafi is using to save himself and his cronies are, in fact, the same soldiers trained by US and European Special Forces in GWOT, then we must be fair to our short-sighted politicians. It was certainly not their intentions to train soldiers to protect Qaddafi’s dictatorship. That was not then, and not now, their goal. They did intend, however, on supporting the weak democracies and brutal dictatorships that exist in West and Central Africa. After all, these are their allies against terrorism, or at least they designate these regimes as their GWOT allies.

The major problem with GWOT is it has failed in its efforts to reduce violence in the Sahara and Sahel. In fact, it has increased the number of violent incidents. In our efforts to train the national militaries in West and Central Africa, we (Americans and Europeans) have provided West and Central African regimes the tools and training to suppress their political rivals, and, more importantly, their own citizenry. Meanwhile kidnappings and attacks on Western interests have increased since September 11th. Meanwhile, flukes and unintended consequences like Qaddafi calling upon US and European trained special forces from Niger and Chad have found a market for their skills by protecting a brutal dictator, who by conservative estimates, has killed over 300 of his citizenry (some of them while attending the funerals of Libyans that were killed earlier).

One last rant (this one is especially for the Governor Walker of Wisconsin and new members of the US Congress). At a time when you are claiming it is in America’s best interest to give up what few social safety nets they have, cut their wages and benefits, and scrap any future efforts at collective bargaining, do you think it is in your best interests to keep shoveling funds into failed military programs like GWOT while cutting what little benefits Americans have at home? … (GWOT) funds that inadvertently undermine real, democratic, social change organized by peaceful Libyans, Egyptians and Tunisians? Or will you wrap a terrorist label around these people as you cut the modest benefits of teachers, fire fighters, janitors, and other public employees? And if this was not enough, you also want to strip them of their rights to assemble, strike and bargain? I don’t want to be cynical about this, but it truly looks like GWOT and the agendas of politicians for 2011 are really just fronts for a Global War on Democracy both at home and abroad.

Flag for the Libyan Protesters of 2011

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Blaming the Rains is an Old Con Game

                                                                                                                                                                                         Source: FEWS Net

This will sound familiar: ‘it is unfortunate what is happening in East Africa.’ It has an air of redundancy in this blog because I wrote about another food crisis back in September 2010, when the Sahel faced food shortages (see the September 2010 archives “Vulnerability Does Not Happen over Night” or “Still Thinking ‘Inside the Box’”). Yet I am writing again on this topic because of the recent article in IRIN, “Ethiopia: Aid appeal for pastoralist regions,” This is not the region I study but it shares similar climate and livelihood patterns of the people I do study in the Sahara and Sahel. I also empathize with the people experiencing this crisis and the obstacles aid workers face in saving lives. I do, however, have concerns with how the media and their interviewees are portraying the current crisis.

First, as one can see from the map above, found at the Famine Early Warning Systems website this month, the areas experiencing the most vulnerability are northern and central Somalia, not eastern Ethiopia as the article indicates. The instability in Somalia currently, however, may be motivating the media to focus on vulnerable regions that are more accessible to aid workers, like the Ogaden and Oromiya Regions in Ethiopia. The Somali populations here have cultural and economic connections to those affected in Somalia. Thus, helping people here may have spillover effects for those affected in Somalia as well.

Second and more importantly, the opening paragraph of the article reads as follows, “Poor rains, especially in the Somali and Oromiya regions of Ethiopia, have led to food shortages and prompted the government and its international partners to appeal for US$226.5 million in relief aid for almost three million people, a government official said.” Later in the article it continues to vilify the climate, “Poor performance of short rains [has led] to increased beneficiary numbers in pastoral and agro-pastoral areas of southern and southeastern parts of the country, especially the Somali Regional State," Mitiku [Ethiopian state minister of agriculture] added. "There is a critical problem due to the failure of ‘deyr’ and 'hagaya' rains [October-December] in Somali, Borena and Guji."

I do not wish to deflate the severity of this crisis. This is a serious matter for many East Africans, particularly the pastoral communities in Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. Even regions that received adequate rainfall or have access to groundwater will likely come under great stress or conflicts over natural resources. The news article and the Ethiopian state minister of agriculture, Mitiku Kassa, however are duping the general public into believing the failure of the ‘deyr’ and ‘hagaya’ rains are the only culprits in this food crisis. I argue that the economic and social transformations in the region over the past twenty years are the culprits responsible for local peoples’ food insecurity, not the region’s natural climatic variability.

This region of the world, like the Sahel of West Africa, is a zone of disequilibrium, where there are periods of drought and even cases of flooding from time to time (see R.H. Behnke, I. Scoones and C. Kerven, editors, Range Ecology at Disequilibrium: New Models of Natural Variability and Pastoral Adaptation in African Savannas [London: Overseas Development Institute], 1993). In the past, people of the region adjusted for these climatic fluctuations by migration and managing the pasture, water and other natural resources through social ties, negotiation, and yes … through warfare. It was not an ideal system and there is no need to romanticize what no longer exists. The transformations that began during European Colonialism and continue under the modern African State, however, have physically constricted the commons, severed social ties and created greater conditions of vulnerability in the name of integrating East Africa into the global economy.

Mitiku Kassa is a recent appointment to the Ethiopian state minister of agriculture, but this is the same bureau that has seized land that was deemed by the government as ‘unproductive,’ leasing the land to multinational corporations to grow cash crops like tea, coffee, or food for export to the Gulf States. This seizure of land was done with little or no compensation to the people who use the land seasonally or in times when the rains fail in other territories. I find it unjust that the media and Mitiku Kassa appeal to the United Nations and other aid organizations to finance and coordinate food relief for the region when the real culprits who created this vulnerability are the multinational corporations and ministers who took land that was alternative fields and pastures for local peoples in the first place.

In my opinion it is the responsibility of the foreign corporations and Ethiopian national ministers who received ‘compensation’ from these multinational corporations to supply immediate relief to local populations. Also, the accountability should not end there. It is also the responsibility of these agents to either return the land they seized from local farmers and herders, or, provide local communities compensation through alternative income generating activities and infrastructure (clinics, schools, roads, wells, and other agricultural and pastoral implements) to reduce future food insecurity. Is it so wrong to ask the arsonists to put out the fires they started? Or will we continue to blame nature for man-made catastrophes? At a time when it is important to start preparing for greater variations in climate, it is time to stop blaming nature for tragedies and start recognizing the consequences of a callous global economy and how it undermines peoples’ food security, their control over natural resources and their livelihoods altogether.