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The NED, Tibet, north Korea and Zimbabwe

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By Stephen Gowans

Vin Weber, a former chairman and current board member of the US National Endowment for Democracy, has written an article in The Washington Times defending the NED against calls to eliminate its funding. [1]

The NED was established by the Reagan administration after the CIA’s role in covertly funding efforts to overthrow foreign governments was brought to light, leading to the discrediting of the parties, movements, journals, books, newspapers and individuals that received CIA funding. This undermined the efficacy of these agents as tools of US foreign policy.

As a bipartisan endowment, with participation from the two major parties, as well as the AFL-CIO and US Chamber of Commerce, the NED took over the financing of foreign overthrow movements, but overtly and under the rubric of “democracy promotion.”

As the NED’s president Carl Gershman explained,

“It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the C.I.A. We saw that in the 60’s, and that’s why it has been discontinued. We have not had the capability of doing this, and that’s why the endowment was created.” [2]

Thus, the NED was founded, as New York Times reporter John Broder explained in 1997, “to do in the open what the Central Intelligence Agency has done surreptitiously for decades.” [3]

As part of the NED-program of regime change, governments the US foreign policy establishment targets for overthrow are demonized as anti-democratic while the recipients of NED largesse are angelized as pro-democratic. What links targeted governments is not their electoral democratic practices – which can range from absent to present — but their economic policies, which tend to be restrictive of foreign investment, imports, and property rights. What links the recipients of NED grants is not their attitude to electoral democracy, but their embrace of US policy.

Tibet

The NED’s angelization of the Dalai Lama is a case in point. The Dalai Lama is hardly a democrat, yet he has received Washington’s lucre for decades, including from the CIA and later the NED. Tibet’s “spiritual leader”, as he has been anointed in the West, presided over a backward theocratic feudal society, before fleeing to India after a botched uprising against the Chinese government, which had supported the dismantling of Tibetan feudalism. As Michael Parenti explains,

“Until 1959, when the Dalai Lama last presided over Tibet, most of the arable land was still organized into manorial estates worked by serfs. These estates were owned by two social groups: the rich secular landlords and the rich theocratic lamas…The Dalai Lama himself ‘lived richly in the 1000-room, 14-story Potala Palace.’

“There also were slaves, usually domestic servants, who owned nothing. Their offspring were born into slavery. The majority of the rural population were serfs. Treated little better than slaves, the serfs went without schooling or medical care, They were under a lifetime bond to work the lord’s land–or the monastery’s land–without pay, to repair the lord’s houses, transport his crops, and collect his firewood. They were also expected to provide carrying animals and transportation on demand. Their masters told them what crops to grow and what animals to raise. They could not get married without the consent of their lord or lama. And they might easily be separated from their families should their owners lease them out to work in a distant location.

“As in a free labor system and unlike slavery, the overlords had no responsibility for the serf’s maintenance and no direct interest in his or her survival as an expensive piece of property. The serfs had to support themselves. Yet as in a slave system, they were bound to their masters, guaranteeing a fixed and permanent workforce that could neither organize nor strike nor freely depart as might laborers in a market context. The overlords had the best of both worlds.” [4]

The NED calls the former feudal overlord, the Dalai Lama, seen here with George W. Bush, “a devoted democrat.” The slaves and serfs of the old Tibet might disagree.

The old Tibet, then, was hardly a society of peace and tranquility ruled over by a benign ruler. It was a class society torn by conflict and predicated on brutal, naked, exploitation. Despite this, a February 16, 2010 NED press release describes the former Tibetan feudal overlord “not only as a moral and religious leader respected throughout the world but as a fellow democrat who shares America’s deepest values.” [5]

In the same press release, the NED urged the Obama administration “to express America’s strong support for him” (a “devoted democrat”) “and what he represents – genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people.” [6] But why should the NED urge the US administration to express support for autonomy in Tibet, when Washington has never supported autonomy for the Basques, Corsicans, the Kurds in Turkey, the Scots and Irish nationalists, or the South Ossetians?

“The answer is obvious: the United States does not support separatist movements in countries they consider their allies. The targets are either countries they consider rivals, like Russia or China, or countries that are too weak to resist, and where they can obtain totally dependent client states from the breakup – which is what happened with Yugoslavia.” [7]

Weber’s defense of the NED comes in response to a call from Shika Dalmia, a senior analyst at the Reason Foundation, urging the Obama administration to cut funding to the NED on grounds the organization has outlived its original mandate, overthrowing communism.

In a Washington Times article, Dalmia wrote that the NED,

“…was founded by President Reagan in the heyday of the Cold War to contain communism. Communism has since evaporated, and democracy has spread like wildfire in the former Soviet Union, Still, President Obama proposes to hand the NED $109 million this year. This despite the fact that NED has been dogged by controversy, the least of which being that it once spent $1.5 million to defend democracy in the Soviet bastion called France. Worse, although NED gets all its funding from the government, it is structured like a private entity over whose board – an improbable hybrid of representatives of business, unions, and other concerns—Congress has little control. The upshot is that sitting presidents have used it to do things abroad that Congress wouldn’t approve. In the mid-1980s, for instance, it directed funding to the political opponents of the then-president of Costa Rica—long a beacon of democracy—simply because he opposed Reagan’s Nicaragua policy.” [8]

Predictably, Weber rejects Dalmia’s arguments. “Take the example of her contention that communism has ‘evaporated’,” he counters, “and tell that to the defectors who have risked everything to escape the hell on earth that is nuclear-armed North Korea.” [9]

Hell on earth? Is this like the hell on earth that is a ghetto in the hyper-nuclear-armed United States, or the hell on earth that is the Gaza blockaded by a nuclear-armed Israel backed by the hyper-nuclear-armed Pentagon?

North Korea

As a member of the US foreign policy establishment, Weber ought to be careful about talking of hell on earth, for Washington is among the principal authors of unnecessary torment in this world. Iraq, site of the greatest contemporary humanitarian catastrophe, is a hell on earth, and it was created by the United States, for reasons that have nothing whatever to do with what Washington said motivated the country’s Iraq sanctions policy and invasion. What did US B52 bombers create in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia if not hell on earth? And what condition prevailed after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, and the fire-bombing of Dresden?

Hell on earth in north Korea didn’t begin with the US demolishing every building over one-story, but it did nothing to relieve it. The torment didn’t end either when Washington practiced nuclear terrorism by deploying battlefield nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula or when in 1993 it announced it was targeting strategic nuclear missiles on north Korea, a country which, at the time, had no nuclear weapons.

The NED’s role in overthrowing communism played its own part in creating hell on earth in north Korea by bringing about the collapse of the country’s markets. Decades-long sanctions have also made life tougher, precisely as intended by US policy makers. And unremitting military pressure from the United States, a military behemoth, has forced north Korea, a military pipsqueak, to channel a punishingly high percentage of its meagre resources into self-defense, depriving the country of the capital it needs for productive investment. If there is a hell on earth in north Korea, it exists because the United States has created one, deliberately, systematically, and with the intention of crushing a top-to-bottom alternative to Third World dependency on the United States.

Jestina Mukoko

Meanwhile, the NED has celebrated Jestina Mukoko, a Zimbabwean who was arrested in December 2008 by Zimbabwe state security agents, who Mukuko claims tortured her.

Mukoko is variously connected in leadership roles with organizations funded by the NED and United State Agency for International Development (USAID.) She is, for example, “the executive director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, a grantee of the” NED [10], as well as a member of the board of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, an organization interlocked with a number of other Western-funded anti-Mugabe groups, and which receives its funding from the NED and USAID.

Jestina Mukoko, center, feted in Washington for her role as a US government-funded regime change agent. Honored by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and US First Lady Michelle Obama for services to the empire.

To understand why Mukoko was arrested, it helps to place her activities in the context of the Mugabe government’s efforts to carry through land reform, the West’s opposition to the expropriation of white settler farmland, and the efforts of the United States to enforce respect for private property rights through a campaign of regime change in which Mukoko plays a role.

The following points, therefore, are salient:

1. The United States is openly working to exclude Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF party (which champions land reform and economic indigenization) from government, and to replace it with the Movement for Democratic Change (which advocates policies that would inevitably strengthen foreign domination of Zimbabwe’s land, labor and natural resources.)
2. The US-sponsored regime change campaign operates through the NED and USAID-financing of domestic activists, like Mukoko.
3. While the ostensible objective of NED and USAID-sponsored activities in Zimbabwe is the promotion of democracy and human rights, the real aim is the installation of a government committed to facilitating the pursuit of US and Western interests, including allowing the sale of agricultural land to foreign investors. That the United States and its foundations have the slightest concern for promoting democracy and human rights is belied by the US practices of detaining people without charge in secret prisons, the scandals of Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo, the furnishing of aid and support to such notorious autocracies as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and the backing of the Israeli blockade of Gaza to punish Gazans for exercising their democratic rights in electing Hamas. The NED does, however, care deeply about the interests of US corporations, banks and investors which, after all, play the dominant role in shaping US policy and whose representatives staff the key positions of the US state.

In other words, Mukoko is deeply connected to a US state which is openly hostile to Zimbabwe and its land reform and economic indigenization programs, and seeks to oust the Zanu-PF element of the current government. Is it any wonder she has drawn the attention of the Zimbabwe’s security services?

This mercenary on behalf of US interests recently travelled to Washington where she was feted by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and US First Lady Michelle Obama, an act not too much different from Petain traveling to Berlin to be showered with honors by Ribbentrop and Eva Braun. What would the US security state do to a US-based jihadist who took money from a foundation financed by the Iranian government to promote the rise of an Islamic Republic in the United States and who would later travel to Tehran to be personally presented with official honors by Mabouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian foreign minister?

At the ceremony honouring Mukoko’s services to the empire, Michelle Obama expressed shock that Mukoko “was interrogated (by Zimbabwe security agents) for hours while forced to kneel on gravel…” [11] This was precious, coming from the wife of a president whose country has spent the last decade kidnapping militants who oppose their southwest Asian countries being dominated by the United States and its corrupt puppet regimes and then subjecting them to stress positions, water-boarding and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques, when they’re not being shipped off to allied countries to face more unrestrained forms of torture, or are simply being assassinated. Belaboring the Eva Braun analogy, Obama’s shock was like Hitler’s partner complaining about the Soviets exchanging territory with Finland by force, long after the Nazis had gone on their rampage through Europe.

In his book Age of Empire, historian Eric Hobsbawm observed that,

“The age of democracy turned into an era of public political hypocrisy, or rather duplicity, where those who held power only said what they really meant in the obscurity of the corridors of power. Thus was born an enormous gap between public discourse and political reality”…

…a disparity all too evident in the NED’s public pronouncements.

[1] Vin Weber, “Vin Weber: Defending the well-endowed,” The Washington Times, March 11, 2010.

[2] David K. Shipler, “Missionaries for Democracy: U.S. Aid for Global Pluralism,” The New York Times, June 1, 1986.

[3] John M. Broder, “Political Meddling by Outsiders: Not New for U.S.,” The New York Times, April 1, 1997.

[4] Michael Parenti, “Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth,” Michael Parenti Political Archive, http://www.michaelparenti.org/Tibet.html

[5] National Endowment for Democracy, “How to welcome the Dalai Lama to Washington,” February 16, 2010.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Diana Johnstone, “Breaking Yugoslavia,” New Left Project, March 3, 2010, http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/breaking_yugoslavia/

[8] Shikha Dalmia, “Busting the well-endowed,” The Washington Times, March 4, 2010.

[9] Weber.

[10] Michael Allen, “Activist demands accountability and end to impunity in Zimbabwe,” Democracy Digest, March 12, 2010.

11. Ibid.

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March 22, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Sophists for sanctions

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By Stephen Gowans

Tony Hawkins, a professor of economics at the University of Zimbabwe, thinks that Western sanctions on Zimbabwe should be maintained but that their effects “are minimal” and that “their continued existence really plays into the hands of some people in Zanu-PF.”

You would think, then, that Hawkins would favor the lifting of sanctions. After all, why continue to play into the hands of Zanu-PF, if, like Hawkins, you’re opposed to the party, its direction and its program, and the sanctions’ effects are minimal anyway?

For decades, supporters of the U.S. economic war on Cuba have lied that a near total U.S. blockade of the island has had little effect on the Cuban economy. On the contrary, they say, the blockade has actually worked against the U.S., by handing Fidel Castro, and now his brother, Raul, a way of diverting attention from their “failed” economic policies. The Castros, they say, blame Cuba’s problems on the blockade and thus evade responsibility for their much larger role in crippling the island’s economy.

Yet none of these people has recommended that the blockade be lifted, a measure you would think Cuba-opponents would immediately latch onto for its supposed benefits in making clear to Cubans that socialism, not the U.S. blockade, is the source of their poverty, something that might impel them to fulfill U.S. foreign policy goals by overturning socialism. So, why aren’t these people, if they truly believe what they’re saying, pressing for the blockade to be lifted?

The answer is simple: they don’t really believe the blockade has minimal effects, but have to say it does, so they can blame Cuba’s poverty on the Castros.

Likewise, people like Hawkins don’t really believe sanctions on Zimbabwe have minimal effects, but have to say they do, so they can blame Zimbabwe’s economic troubles on Zanu-PF policies, particularly land reform.

Hawkins acknowledges his position is “a bit of a contradiction” (a bit?) but that he opposes the lifting of sanctions because ending them “would convince Zanu-PF that they are winning and make them even more intransigent than they are already.”

But you would think that if the effects of the sanctions were truly minimal, that Hawkins could scarcely care if lifting them allowed Zanu-PF something so insignificant as to think it was winning, when, by being denied the sanctions issue, it would really be losing. For how could Zanu-PF blame Zimbabwe’s troubles on sanctions if sanctions no longer existed? Surely, Hawkins can see that ending the sanctions has little downside (the effects are minimal anyway, he says) and a huge upside (Mugabe would no longer be able to blame the country’s difficulties on sanctions.)

To be effective, a sanctions regime requires more than sanctions alone. It also requires an understanding of the sanctions’ effects: are they devastating the economy or only creating inconvenience for a few highly placed political operatives? And what is the cause of the country’s economic woes: sanctions or failed policies?

The purpose of sanctions is to force a change of government. It’s critical that the people the sanctions are imposed on attribute the effects of the sanctions to their government’s policies, not to the sanctions themselves, otherwise, they won’t act to change their government, as the imposers of the sanctions intend.

This is where Hawkins comes in. Washington, London and the E.U. impose sanctions to wreck the economy. Hawkins’ task is to persuade Zimbabweans that sanctions aren’t devastating, and that the problems Zimbabweans face, come from within the country (Zanu-PF’s policies), not outside (sanctions). But in trying to make his case, he ties himself into knots – just as proponents of the U.S. blockade on Cuba do.

Hawkins wants Zanu-PF gone for the same reason the U.S. State Department, Whitehall and other supporters of the U.S. blockade on Cuba want the Castros gone: to create political jurisdictions congenial to Western investors, where the interests of the domestic population don’t matter. Hawkins says Zimbabweans “need a return to conditions that will attract investment that will foster confidence and so on.”

A return? Does he mean to go backward, to a time when the land and resources were in the hands of the British and their descendants, when indigenous Zimbabweans were relegated to roles as farm-workers, miners and employees, never owners?

It should be recalled that the British government, in the person of Clare Short, refused to back Zimbabwe’s fast-track land reform program because returning the land to the people British settlers stole it from would, she said, damage “prospects for attracting investment.”

Returning to conditions that will attract investment is code for undoing Zimbabwe’s land reform program, and giving the country back to the British. Making the case for so regressive a program could only rest on the kind of sophistry Hawkins, and other promoters of neo-colonialism, are prepared to try to bamboozle the Zimbabwe population with. Pity for them they keep tripping over their own contradictions.

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February 9, 2010 at 11:39 pm

A Handsome Investment Opportunity: Washington’s Plan for a Post-Mugabe Zimbabwe

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By Stephen Gowans

Washington’s plan for a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe has been sketched out by Michelle D. Gavin, White House advisor and Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council [1], while she was a research fellow at the influential Council on Foreign Relations. In Planning for Post-Mugabe Zimbabwe [2], a paper which spells out “a vision for (Zimbabwe’s) future and a plan for how to get there,” Gavin explains how the “existing roster of (Zimbabwe’s) civil society leaders…lends itself to the U.S. desire” to put Zimbabwe’s valuable natural resources, including its farmland, up for sale to U.S. investors. Gavin cautions that a populist and nationalist reaction against the U.S. plan could arise, and recommends three counter measures: a job creation program; co-opting the corps of Zimbabwe’s middle-level military officers with training programs, exchanges and pay increases; and entrepreneurship programs to divert the energies and attention of politicized youth.

 What is the Council on Foreign Relations? 

The Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) is the largest U.S. ruling class policy organization. Founded in 1921 by bankers, lawyers and scholars interested in carving out a larger role for the United States in world affairs, the organization’s membership is today dominated by finance bankers, corporate executives, and lawyers, supplemented by journalists, scholars and government and military officials.

The CFR is funded by corporations, wealthy individuals and sales of its journal, Foreign Affairs. Its most important function is to bring together small discussion groups, of 15 to 25 corporate executives, State Department and Pentagon officials, and academics, to explore specific issues in foreign affairs and identify policy alternatives. Discussion groups often lead to study groups, led by a research fellow, Gavin’s role at the CFR. As sociologist William Domhoff explains,

“The goal of such study groups is a detailed statement of the problem by the scholar leading the discussion. Any book that eventuates from the group is understood to express the views of its academic author, not of the council or the members of the study group, but the books are nonetheless published with the sponsorship of the CFR.” [3]

The books and papers are sent to the State Department, where their recommendations are often adopted, either as a result of the prestige of the CFR or because members of the CFR circulate freely between the organization and the State Department and National Security Council. Gavin herself is emblematic of this career path.

Gavin’s Analysis

It is quite astonishing that the United States can deny that it is imperialist, when scholars, government and military officials and CEOs, meet under the auspices of the CFR to plan the future of other countries.  In an affront to democracy and geography, Gavin, a U.S. citizen, articulates the CFR’s “vision for (Zimbabwe’s) future and a plan for how to get there.” 

Gavin attributes Zimbabwe’s economic difficulties to “gross mismanagement,” rather than U.S. efforts to undermine Zimbabwe’s economy, a commonly practiced deception by U.S. officials.  While “President Mugabe and his cronies frequently claim that Western sanctions are sabotaging the Zimbabwean economy,” she writes, this cannot be true because “there are no trade sanctions on Zimbabwe.”  True, there are no formal trade sanctions, but there are plenty of financial sanctions, a point of which Gavin must surely be aware. She was a long-serving foreign policy advisor to U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, a co-sponsor of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery of Act of 2001 (ZDERA), along with Hillary Clinton (now U.S. Secretary of State), Joseph Biden (now U.S. Vice-President) and the arch racist Jesse Helms. Gavin, herself, describes ZDERA as “a law prohibiting U.S. support for both debt relief and any new assistance for Zimbabwe from the international financial institutions.” This means that Zimbabwe has been barred from accessing development assistance and balance of payment support since 2001, a virtual economic death sentence for a Third World country.  Gavin’s deception extends to claiming that while “it is true that major donors oppose extending any additional support to Zimbabwe at international financial institutions, Zimbabwe’s own deep arrears and the ZANU-PF government’s unwillingness to pursue sustainable economic policies prevent this support from being extended anyway.” If this is true, why did the U.S. government go to the trouble of creating ZDERA?  And why is Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Finance, now under the control of the U.S.-backed Movement for Democratic Change, complaining that ZDERA is undermining its efforts to bring about an economic recovery? In May, Finance Minister Tendai Biti pointed out that,

“The World Bank has right now billions and billions of dollars that we have access to but we can’t access those dollars unless we have dealt with and normalized our relations with the IMF. We cannot normalize our relations with the IMF because of the voting power, it’s a blocking voting power of America and people who represent America on that board cannot vote differently because of ZDERA.” [4]

As bad as ZDERA is, it’s not the only financial sanctions regime the United States has used to sabotage Zimbabwe’s economy. Addressing the Senate Foreign Relations African Affairs Subcommittee, Jendaya Frazer, who was George W. Bush’s top diplomat in Africa, noted that the United States had imposed financial restrictions on 135 individuals and 30 businesses. U.S. citizens and corporations who violate the sanctions face penalties ranging from $250,000 to $500,000. “We are looking to expand the category of Zimbabweans who are covered. We are also looking at sanctions on government entities as well, not just individuals.” She added that the U.S. Treasury Department was looking into ways to target sectors of Zimbabwe’s critical mining industry. [5]

On July 25, 2008 Bush announced that sanctions on Zimbabwe would be stepped up. He outlawed U.S. financial transactions with a number of key Zimbabwe companies and froze their U.S. assets. The enterprises included: the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (which controls all mineral exports); the Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company; Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe; Osleg, or Operation Sovereign Legitimacy, the commercial arm of Zimbabwe’s army; Industrial Development Corporation; the Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe; ZB Financial Holdings; and the Agriculture Development Bank of Zimbabwe. [6]

Two other aspects of Gavin’s comments on Zimbabwe’s economy must be addressed.

First, her reference to senior Zimbabwe officials as “cronies” of Robert Mugabe: This is a transparent effort to discredit Zimbabwe’s government through name-calling, a hoary practice that, during the Cold War, led U.S. officials and mass media to adopt differential terminology depending on whether they were referring to capitalist or socialist countries.  The Soviet Union had a “regime”, “secret police”, “satellites” and an “empire” while the United States had a “government,” “security organizations,” “allies,” and “strategic interests.” The propaganda function of the term “cronies” becomes evident when used against the United States. Were we to talk of Obama and his cronies (his top advisors and cabinet officials) we would be dismissed as crude propagandists. “Cronies” not only serves a clear propaganda function, it also reflects Washington’s frustration with Mugabe’s having built up a loyal circle of advisors and political lieutenants, whose members the United States has been unable to co-opt. 

Second, Gavin’s attributing “Zimbabwe’s own deep arrears” to international lending institutions to the former “ZANU-PF government’s unwillingness to pursue sustainable economic policies,” requires some explanation of what sustainable economic policies are.  Sustainable economic policies, from the point of view of the World Bank, IMF and the North Atlantic financial elite that dominates these organizations, are policies which benefit the lenders. Credit does not come without strings attached, and the strings are often deeply inimical to local populations. The economic policies the Mugabe government pursued, under the guidance of the World Bank and IMF, hardly sustained the people of Zimbabwe.

“In January 1991, Zimbabwe adopted its Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP), designed primarily by the World Bank. The program called for the usual prescription of actions advocated by Western financial institutions, including privatization, deregulation, a reduction of government expenditures on social needs, and deficit cutting. User fees were instituted for health and education, and food subsidies were eliminated. Measures protecting local industry from foreign competition were also withdrawn.

“The impact was immediate. While pleasing for Western investors, the result was a disaster for the people of Zimbabwe. According to one study, the poorest households in Harare saw their income drop over 12 percent in the year from 1991 to 1992 alone, while real wages in the country plunged by a third over the life of the program. Falling income levels forced people to spend a greater percentage of their income on food, and second-hand clothes were imported to compensate for the inability of most of Zimbabwe’s citizens to purchase new clothing. A 1994 survey in Harare found that 90 percent of those interviewed felt that ESAP had adversely affected their lives. The rise in food prices was seen as a major problem by 64 percent of respondents, while many indicated that they were forced to reduce their food intake. ESAP resulted in mass layoffs and crippled the job market so that many were unable to find any employment at all. In the communal areas, the rise in fertilizer prices meant that subsistence farmers were no longer able to fertilize their land, resulting in lower yields. ESAP also mandated the elimination of price controls, allowing those shop owners in communal area who were free of competition to mark prices up dramatically…By 1995, over one third of Zimbabwe’s citizens could not afford a basic food basket, shelter and clothing. From 1991 to 1995, Zimbabwe experienced a sharp deindustrialization, as manufacturing output fell 40 percent.

“The government of Zimbabwe felt it could no longer endure this debacle, and by the end of the 1990’s, started moving away from the neoliberal program. Finally, in October 2001, the abandonment of ESAP was officially announced. ‘Enough is enough,’ declared President Mugabe.” [7]

Zimbabwe: A handsome investment opportunity

Gavin estimates that the overall costs of undoing the damage of U.S. economic sabotage “fall between $3 billion and $4.5 billion over five years,” representing a substantial investment for the U.S. government. But “such a substantial investment makes sense,” Gavin concludes, because “private investors have expressed strong enthusiasm for Zimbabwe’s long-term potential.”

However, taking advantage of Zimbabwe’s long-term investment potential may not be easy, she cautions, for the suspicions of populist and nationalist Zimbabweans must be overcome. “The United States and others should be aware of nationalist and populist sensitivities,” she warns.  The creation of “a reform agenda” and “a more favorable investment climate” could lead Zimbabweans to believe that U.S. involvement ”is leading to a selling off of valuable natural resources in deals that are lucrative for foreign investors but do little for the Zimbabwean people.”

Zimbabweans’ experiences with World Bank and IMF economic structural adjustment programs of the 1990s, and the experiences of Serbia – in which the United States created a reform agenda and more favorable investment climate after the socialist-inclined Slobodan Milosevic was ousted in a U.S.-backed coup – serve as warnings.  In Serbia, U.S. involvement led to a selling off of publicly and socially-owned assets in deals that were lucrative for foreign investors but did little for the Serb people.

“In Serbia dollars have accomplished what bombs could not. After U.S.-led international sanctions were lifted with Milosevic’s ouster in 2000, the United States emerged as the largest single source of foreign direct investment. According to the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, U.S. companies have made $1 billion worth of ‘committed investments’ represented in no small part by the $580 million privatization of Nis Tobacco Factory (Phillip Morris) and a $250 million buyout of the national steel producer by U.S. Steel. Coca-Cola bought a Serbian bottled water producer in 2005 for $21 million. The list goes on.” [8]

Meanwhile, in the former Serb province of Kosovo, the

“coal mines and electrical facilities, the postal service, the Pristina airport, the railways, landfills, and waste management systems have all been privatized. As is the case across the Balkans, ‘publicly-owned enterprises’ are auctioned for a fraction of their value on the private market with little or no compensation for taxpayers.” [9]

Prior to the U.S. corporate takeover, the Yugoslav economy consisted largely of state- and socially-owned enterprises, leaving little room for U.S. profit-making opportunities, not the kind of place U.S. banks, corporations and investors are keen on. That the toppling of Milosevic had everything to do with opening space for U.S. investors and corporations was evident in chapter four of the U.S.-authored Rambouillet ultimatum, an ultimatum Milosevic rejected, triggering weeks of NATO bombing. The first article called for a free-market economy and the second for privatization of all government-owned assets. NATO bombs seemed to have had an unerring ability to hit Yugoslavia’s socially-owned factories and to miss foreign-owned ones. This was an economic take-over project.

To lull Zimbabweans into accepting the selling off of their valuable natural resources, Gavin recommends that U.S. investors establish “a corporate code of conduct that takes into account these sensitivities” and that they “be sensitive to Zimbabwe’s urgent need for job creation when considering how they might protect and nurture long-term investments.”

This says that U.S. investors should tread carefully when gobbling up Zimbabwe’s valuable natural resources, and that creating jobs may be a way to stifle nationalist and populist sentiment.

The outcome of “the more open investment climate,” of course, would be to deliver ownership of Zimbabwe’s natural resources and economy to the corporations, investment banks and wealthy investors represented among CFR members, while Zimbabweans are relegated to the subordinate role of employees. U.S. investors would create jobs to reduce nationalist opposition, but this would be a sop. The Zanu-PF program of making Zimbabweans masters in their own house would be reversed, and Zimbabweans would return to the role of creating wealth for foreign owners, mired in poverty and condemned to perpetual underdevelopment.

Restoring private property rights

Zimbabwe’s long-term potential for U.S. investors can’t be realized unless investments are protected from expropriation. “The core conditions for a resumption of assistance” therefore “must include…repeal of the legislation passed in recent years” that “gutted private property rights,” Gavin writes.

Restoring private property rights is also critical to Washington’s plan for Zimbabwe’s farmland.  The essence of the plan is to clear “away obstacles to private investment,” by according ownership rights to families on redistributed land. They would be able to sell their land, transferring ownership to the highest bidder.  At the same time, expropriated white farmers would be fully compensated, thereby acquiring the means and the legal structure to reclaim their farms. Foreign investors could also buy large tracts of lands, helping to “facilitate the consolidation of small parcels into more economically viable entities.” This is a vision of a commercial agricultural sector based on ownership of vast tracts of land by foreign corporations and white farmers restored to their former dominant positions, in which black Zimbabweans are relegated to the role of farm workers, or, once again, to the least favorable land.  

Gavin worries about politicized youth, especially those who participated in “farm invasions and youth militia activities,” presumably because they represent an activist nationalist sector likely to oppose the selling off of Zimbabwean’s natural resources, including its farmland. In order to divert their energies, Gavin recommends “programming for youth through credit schemes, technology-focused skill building, programs to foster entrepreneurship and empowerment initiatives designed to give young people an ongoing, institutionalized voice in government.” This borrows from the successful strategy of ruling class organizations in the United States to move the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war movements off the streets and to bog them down in legalistic and bureaucratic activities. This was done, in part, by funding voter registration drives and lowering the voting age to 18 from 21 – anything to remove militants from the streets and to bring them into formal institutional structures the ruling class dominates.

“By 1963, the civil rights movement was becoming more militant, and the ‘black power’ slogan, first used by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, made elites nervous. The Ford and Rockefeller foundations responded by creating the National Urban Coalition to transform ‘black power’…into ‘black capitalism’.” [10] This was done by providing funding for the same kinds of activities Gavin wants to promote in a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe: micro-credit loans, entrepreneurship programs, and engagement of youth in electoral and parliamentary processes.

The culmination of this program in the United States was the election of Barack Obama, who, in a recent speech to mark the centennial of the NAACP, described his election, blacks in political office, and black CEOs running Fortune 500 corporations, as the final goal of the civil rights movement. Because a militant black power movement was hijacked and turned into a movement for black capitalism, the United States remains profoundly unequal in employment, income, opportunity and education, with blacks on the bottom rung of the ladder. By Obama’s own admission, “African Americans are out of work more than just about anybody else…are more likely to suffer from a host of diseases but less likely to own health insurance than just about anybody else…” and “an African American child is roughly five times as likely as a white child to see the inside of a prison.” [11] To illustrate how effectively the co-opting of the black power movement has emasculated efforts to end oppression of blacks in the United States, the best Obama can offer to redress the appalling level for racial inequality is to urge black U.S. citizens to do what he urged Africans in his Ghana speech to do: stop blaming others and try harder.

“We’ve got to say to our children, yes, if you’re African American, the odds of growing up amid crimes and gangs are higher. Yes, if you live in a poor neighborhood you will face challenges that somebody in a wealthy suburb does not have to face. But that’s not a reason to get bad grades—that’s not a reason to cut class—that’s not a reason to give up on your education and drop out of school. No one has written your destiny for you. Your destiny is in your hands—you cannot forget that. That’s what we have to teach all of our children. No excuses. No excuses. You get that education, all those hardships will just make you stronger, better able to compete. Yes we can.” [12]

There’s nothing wrong with a determined approach to overcoming obstacles, but there’s an ambiguity in Obama’s message that borders on racism. It’s clear that he acknowledges that blacks face obstacles, and it’s also clear that he does not foresee the obstacles being removed, otherwise why would he urge blacks to overcome them, rather than act collectively to eliminate them? The ambiguity arises because Obama urges blacks not to attribute their condition to the obstacles they face. Why not? If the obstacles are real, why not acknowledge them, and organize politically to remove them? The alternative interpretation is that Obama means the obstacles are not formidable, and that blacks are using them as an excuse to cover up for personal failings. If this is indeed what Obama means, his analysis is deeply racist. By contrast, Zanu-PF has worked to remove obstacles to black Zimbabweans left in place by the country’s colonial heritage and hasn’t adopted the Obama approach of leaving racist structures in place while bidding the victims to pick themselves up by the bootstraps. 

To consolidate its control over Zimbabwe, Washington plans to energetically engage “middle-level officers” of Zimbabwe’s military, purged of “clearly political actors,” in “a dialogue about security sector reform.” Middle-level officers would be targeted for pay increases, to be underwritten by “donors other than the United States,” who Gavin believes would “be best equipped to assist with this.” It is standard operating procedure in the imperialist playbook to engage the officer corps of countries to be subordinated to outside control. As Szymanski and Goertzel explain, imperialist military power can be

“exerted through the support of local military institutions and the resultant gratitude of the officer corps. The local military establishment frequently are willing to support the imperialists against their own people. Metropolitan countries train the officers of Third World armies, either in the metropolitan countries (the top officers), or in Third World countries (low-level officers.) They provide military advisers at all levels of the chain of command, and they provide the modern weapons of war—airplanes, tanks, artillery, etc.—on which Third World armies are totally dependent.” [13]

This is the CFR’s vision for Zimbabwe. True to imperialist practice, Gavin recommends that the United States secure the loyalty of Zimbabwe’s middle-level officers with training programs, exchanges and technical assistance. She expresses frustration that Zimbabwe’s senior officer corps, many of whose members are ideologically committed to national independence, remain loyal to Mugabe and his nationalist goals. Middle-level officers would be promised promotions to replace loyal senior officers, who would be purged.   

Conclusion

While working as a research fellow at the CFR, Michelle Gavin set forth the vision of the United States’ top executives, investment bankers and corporate lawyers for Zimbabwe’s future and a plan for how to get there. Not surprisingly, the future the CFR envisions is one of a more open investment climate in which U.S. corporations, banks and investors can buy Zimbabwe’s valuable natural resources and purchase vast tracts of farmland to establish profitable commercial agribusinesses. Having moved to the U.S. National Security Council as Senior Director for African Affairs, Gavin is ideally situated to see the CFR plan and vision she articulated converted into action.  

To guard against the United States realizing its plan to plunder their wealth, Zimbabweans should recognize that:

  • The United States is working through civil society actors to achieve its goal of reversing the gains of land reform and selling off Zimbabwe’s valuable natural resources.
  • Washington has followed a two-step approach to Zimbabwe’s economy. First, sabotage it, and then attribute the country’s economic difficulties to “mismanagement.” In this way, Washington creates the conditions to bleed support for Zanu-PF, if it can control Zimbabweans’ understanding of why their economy is in crisis. Washington created the economic hardships Zimbabweans face, through the Economic Structural Adjustment Programs of the 1990s and financial sanctions since 2001. It’s important for Washington to avoid blame for Zimbabwe’s crippled economy, and to attribute blame wholly to Zanu-PF. Accordingly, Washington will continue to minimize, if not hide altogether, the role of its financial sanctions in undermining Zimbabwe’s economy, citing mismanagement as the cause. The North Atlantic mass media, which tends to uncritically reflect the pronouncements of U.S. officials on foreign affairs, will echo Washington’s fabrications.
  • If Washington manages to sideline Zanu-PF, and the U.S.-backed MDC secures a decisive grip on power, Washington will pressure the MDC to create a reform agenda that emphasizes the creation of an investment climate favorable to the sale of Zimbabwe’s natural resources, and its state-owned assets, including arable farmland, to foreign investors.
  • Programs to promote entrepreneurship, training and skills development will be used to depoliticize Zimbabwe’s youth so that their patrimony can be stolen from under their feet. Job creation will be used as a sop to mollify nationalist sentiment. In this, Zimbabweans should recognize that the economic sabotage policies of the United States and its North Atlantic partners are implicated in the problem of mass unemployment, and that foreign investors, while promoting job creation as a necessary political maneuver to guard against a populist reaction to the sell-off of Zimbabwe’s assets, will allow unemployment to rise again once Zimbabwe has been parceled out to foreign investors.
  • The United States will seek to safeguard the investment of its banks, corporations and wealthy individuals, by co-opting the middle-level officer corps, and using Zimbabwe’s military as an extension of U.S. military power, to suppress populist revolts.

1. http://myafrica.allafrica.com/view/people/main/id/07UF2C6ymSBPq5-O.html. Accessed July 20, 2009. “Opinion: Obama’s Africa Policy,” Maternal Health, Medical News Today, July 13, 2009, describes Gavin as a White House advisor. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/157217.php
2. Michelle D. Gavin, Planning for Post-Mugabe Zimbabwe, CSR No. 31, October, 2007. Council on Foreign Relations, http://www.cfr.org/content/publications/attachments/Zimbabwe_CSR31.pdf
3. G. William Domhoff, “Who Rules America? Power and Politics, McGraw-Hill Higher Education, Fourth Edition, 2002.
4. The Herald (Zimbabwe) May 5, 2009.
5. TalkZimbabwe.com, July 16, 2008.
6. The New York Times, July 26, 2008; The Washington Post, July 26, 2008; The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe), July 27, 2008.
7. Gregory Elich, Strange Liberators: Militarism, Mayhem, and the Pursuit of Profit, Llumina Press, 2006.
8. Elise Hugus, “Eight Years After NATO’s ‘Humanitarian War’: Serbia’s new ‘third way’”, Z Magazine, April 2007, Volume 20, Number 4.
9. Ibid.
10. Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism, State University of New York Press, 2003.
11. Remarks by the President to the NAACP Centennial Convention, New York, July 17, 2009.
12. Ibid.
13. Albert J. Szymanski and Ted George Goertzel, Sociology: Class, Consciousness, and Contradictions, D. Van Nostrand Company, 1979.

Written by what's left

July 21, 2009 at 10:51 pm

Posted in Imperialism, Zimbabwe

Obama’s Africa Speech: Lies, Hypocrisy, and a Prescription for Continued African Dependence

with 12 comments

Q. Is Obama better than Bush?

A. It depends how you like your imperialism – with a white face or a black one.

By Stephen Gowans

US president Barack Obama’s speech at Accra, Ghana on July 11, 2009 was equal parts jaw dropping hypocrisy, outright fiction, sound advice for Africans if taken literally, and advocacy for institutions ideally suited to capital accumulation in Africa by Western investors. Africans should heed the US president’s call to embrace the idea that Africa’s future is up to Africans (and Africans alone) and to build their own nations, but the path Obama proposes, if followed, would condemn Africa to continued underdevelopment and perpetual dependence on the West.

It should come as a surprise to no one but the weakly naïve and politically untutored that the role of the US president in Africa is to promote and defend the interests of the United States, not Africans. This is so, even if the US president shares the skin color of Africa’s majority. What may not be so apparent, but which is true nevertheless, is that Obama represents the interests of his country’s hereditary capitalist families, banks, corporations and wealthy investors whose resources and backing have brought him to power, and in whose interests the logic of imperialism compels him to act. It is Obama’s goal as representative of US capital to open, and keep open, Africa’s vast resources to exploitation by Western, and particularly US, capital without impediments of corruption, war and pan-African, nationalist or socialist projects of independent development getting in the way. His color and African heritage give Obama a leg up on a white president, allowing him to immediately connect with an African audience. But his message is no less racist, imperialist and informed by the interests of Wall Street than that of his white predecessors.
Fooled_by_Obama_by_Latuff2
Outright fiction

Obama used his speech to sell two fictions: (1) that Africa’s underdevelopment has nothing to do with colonialism and neo-colonialism, but is rooted in corruption, tribalism and Africans’ blaming others for their poverty; and (2) that Africa’s development depends on adopting institutions that allow foreign capital unfettered access to African markets and resources.

“It is easy to point fingers, and to pin the blame for (Africa’s) problems on others,” said Obama, explaining that,

“Countries like Kenya, which had a per capita economy larger than South Korea’s when I was born, have been badly outpaced. Disease and conflict have ravaged parts of the African continent. In many places, the hope of my (Kenyan) father’s generation gave way to cynicism, even despair.”

During the years of its rapid economic growth, south Korea did not follow the development path Obama prescribes for Africa today. Instead, it built five-year industrial plans that singled out industries the government would nurture through tariff protection, subsidies and government support. Foreign currencies necessary for importing machinery and industrial inputs were accumulated through foreign exchange controls, whose violation was punishable by death. [1]

The government completely regulated foreign investment, welcoming it in some areas but banning it in others. Attitudes toward intellectual property were lax, with south Korean businesses encouraged to reverse engineer Western technology and pirate the West’s patented products.

This approach to development was the rule, not the exception. Virtually every developed country has followed the same path, using tariffs, subsidies and discrimination against foreign investors, to industrialize.

The first countries to adopt free trade, apart from Britain, where weak countries on whom free trade was imposed by colonial masters. The free trade was typically one-way. Countries in Asia and Africa barely grew economically during the period of colonial rule, while Western Europe – the beneficiary of one-way free trade — grew rapidly. Latin America also grew strongly, but at the time, followed an import-substitution model, not the open markets model industrial powerhouses favored because it favored them.

Under the rule of Britain, the United States was treated much as African countries are today. It was denied the use of tariffs to protect its fledgling industry. It was barred from exporting products that competed with British products. And it was encouraged, through subsides, to concentrate on agriculture. Manufacturing industry was to be left to the British.

Alexander Hamilton rejected this model, creating an infant industry program that allowed the United States to industrialize rapidly. Hamilton’s program — which remained the basis of US economic policy up to World War II — created the highest tariff barriers in the world. US federal mining laws restricted ownership of mines to US citizens and businesses incorporated in the United States. (When Zimbabwe’s government developed legislation to require majority Zimbabwean ownership of the country’s resources, along the lines of earlier US policy, it was denounced for grossly mismanaging the economy.)

Other developed countries also used foreign ownership restrictions to help them industrialize. Prior to 1962, Japan restricted foreign ownership to 49 percent and banned it altogether in certain industries.

In his speech, Obama created the impression that south Korea developed rapidly because it followed policies the World Bank endorses, while at the same time Africa stagnated, because it didn’t. This is doubly false. Not only did south Korea not follow World Bank policies – in fact, it did the very opposite – Africa has been practically run by the IMF and World Bank since the 1980s. Under their guidance, African living standards have worsened, not improved. Over the same period, the Western world’s financial elite – which exercises enormous influence over the World Bank and IMF – saw its wealth expand greatly.

Corruption, Obama argues, and not the legacy of colonialism, has also held Africa back. There must, he insists, be “concrete solutions to corruption like forensic accounting, automating services, strengthening hot lines and protecting whistle-blowers to advance transparency and accountability.”

These measures are desirable. But spectacular corruption in Indonesia, Italy, Japan, south Korea, Taiwan and China didn’t hold these countries back. The critical issue in development isn’t whether corruption happens, but whether the dirty money stays in the country. Mobutu took stolen money out of Zaire, wrecking the Zairian economy. But massive corruption and economic growth can co-exist, if the dirty money is invested in the expansion of the country’s productive assets.

Moreover, corruption is more a consequence, and less a cause, of underdevelopment. Poor countries, because they’re poor, pay meager salaries to government officials. This increases the likelihood officials will stoop to corruption to pad their paltry incomes. And limited government budgets mean there are few resources to prevent graft.

But Obama’s concern about corruption has little to do with its role in hindering development, and everything to do with safeguarding the investments of US banks, corporations and wealthy US citizens. US investors don’t want to invest their capital in countries where the returns can be stolen by corrupt government officials, any more than they want to invest in countries in which there is a high risk of expropriation by nationalist or socialist governments following paths of independent development. A major foreign policy function of the US president is to create safe and stable overseas environments in which US businesses and investment can thrive. Corruption is inimical to that goal.

On top of corruption, conflict based on religious, ethnic and tribal differences is also keeping Africa poor, according to Obama.

“We all have many identities, of tribe and ethnicity, of religion and nationality. But defining oneself in opposition to someone who belongs to a different tribe, or who worships a different prophet, has no place in the 21st century.”

It has long been a practice of imperialist countries to foment ethnic and religious tension as a means of keeping oppressed people fighting each other rather than their oppressor. The ancient Romans called it divide and conquer. The British elevated it to an art form, and used it to undergird their empire. It has always served to: (1) disrupt and disorganize a united front of the oppressed against the oppressor; and (2) to provide a humanitarian justification for imperialist countries to continue their domination of subordinate countries.

The imperialist country must maintain a guiding hand, it’s said, otherwise the ethnic and religious tensions that roil beneath the surface will spill over into open warfare. The massacres in Rwanda have served the useful purpose for the West of reinforcing the imperialist idea that Africans are ready on the flimsiest pretext to go on bloody rampages out of atavistic tribal bloodlust. Exploitation, oppression, unequal access to critical resources, and foreign meddling: none of these causes of conflicts in Africa figure in Western accounts. Instead, the causes of war are to be understood to originate in irrational hatred. And irrational hatred, the narrative goes, is best held in check by Western powers.

While Obama attributed Africa’s poverty to corruption and tribalism, he also, indirectly, and unintentionally, pointed to one of the true reasons for Africa’s underdevelopment: one-way free trade. “Wealthy nations,” he said “must open our doors to goods and services from Africa in a meaningful way,” which says the doors of wealthy nations are not open in a meaningful way today. And they’re not, and never have been. Despite African doors being pried open, usually by force, threat or economic coercion by wealthy nations, the doors of Western countries have only ever been open to Africa on terms that benefit the West. And that’s because there has never really been anything Africa could do about the unfair bargain the West has forced upon it, except to unite and pursue a path of self-reliant development, drawing upon its own immense resources and seeking out critical machine and industrial inputs from sympathetic countries. It didn’t have the military power to force the doors of Western Europe and North America open, as the West forced its doors open. Nor could it use the tools of economic coercion to exact concessions from wealthy countries, for African economies, having been adapted to the requirements of their colonial masters in the period of colonial rule, and never having escaped this legacy, have typically been based on agricultural monoculture. What could African countries do — stop all exports of groundnuts, tobacco or bananas to force the West to open its doors? Doing so would hardly hurt the West, but would deprive Africa of the foreign exchange it uses to import a multitude of goods it depends on the West to provide. To put it succinctly: the West has always had Africa over a barrel.

There are two other egregious misconceptions that Obama articulated in his Accra speech: (1) That “the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade…” and (2) that “African-Americans…have thrived in every sector of (US) society.”

The decline in Zimbabwe’s economy since 2000 is attributed by US officials to Robert Mugabe’s mismanagement, an explanation amplified by the Western media and treated by both the media and Western publics as indisputable. The year 2000 marked the beginning of Zimbabwe’s fast track land redistribution program. The goal of the program was to reclaim prized agricultural land stolen by force by European settlers. The land was to be redistributed to indigenous farmers. And it has been. Zimbabwe has democratized land ownership patterns, distributing land previously owned by 4,000 farmers, mostly of British origin, to 300,000 previously landless families, of African origin.

In more sophisticated analyses, the root cause of Zimbabwe’s economic difficulties is understood to lie in the disruption of agriculture caused by land reform. According to this analysis, had the Mugabe government not pressed ahead with its aggressive land reform program and settled for the sedate, glacial affair that characterized land redistribution prior to 2000 — and which has marked agrarian reform elsewhere on the continent — Zimbabwe would not be in the straitened circumstances it finds itself today.

Until 2000, land reform moved at a snail’s pace. As part of a negotiated settlement with Britain, the independence movement agreed to a willing buyer-willing seller arrangement, whereby land could only be acquired for redistribution if the owner wanted to sell. This restriction was to remain in effect for the first 10 years of independence. Since most farmers of European origin were unwilling to sell, little land was available to redistribute.

Eventually Harare was free to expropriate land from farmers who didn’t want to sell. Britain had agreed to help compensate expropriated farmers but renounced the agreement, denying it was ever under any obligation to fund land reform. Since Harare didn’t have the funds to pay for the land it needed for redistribution, it had two choices: Carry on as is, with land redistribution proceeding at a glacial pace, or expropriate the land and demand that expropriated farmers seek compensation from London, which after all, was ultimately responsible for the theft of the land and had promised to underwrite the land reform program. The Mugabe government chose the latter course, setting off alarm bells in Western capitals. Mugabe couldn’t be allowed to get away with uncompensated expropriation of productive property.

Analyses that attributed Zimbabwe’s economic disaster to mismanagement overlooked the reaction of Washington to the Mugabe government’s lese majesty against private property. For not only did the turn of the century mark the beginning of fast-track land reform, it also marked the passage of the US Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA.)

ZDERA is not a regime of targeted sanctions against individuals, as many believe. Sanctions against individuals do exist, but ZDERA is something altogether different. ZDERA has two aspects. First, it authorizes the US president to “support an independent and free press and electronic media in Zimbabwe” and “provide for democracy and governance programs in Zimbabwe.” This is code for doing openly what the CIA used to do covertly: destabilize foreign governments. Second, it instructs the United States executive director to each international financial institution (the World Bank and IMF, for example) to oppose and vote against:

(1) any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the government of Zimbabwe; or

(2) any cancellation or reduction of indebtedness owed by the government of Zimbabwe to the United States or any international financial institution.

Since ZDERA was passed in 2001, Washington has blocked all lines of credit, development assistance and balance of payment support from international lending institutions to Zimbabwe.

When the act was passed, then US president George W. Bush declared his hope that “the provisions of this important legislation will support the people of Zimbabwe in their struggle to effect peaceful democratic change, achieve economic growth, and restore the rule of law.” [2]

Since effecting peaceful democratic change meant ousting the Zanu-PF government and restoring the rule of law meant forbidding the uncompensated expropriation of white farm land, what Bush was really saying was that he hoped the legislation would help overthrow the government and put an end to fast-track land reform.

ZDERA was co-drafted by one of the opposition MDC’s white parliamentarians, and introduced as a bill in the US Congress in March of 2001 by the Republican senator, William Frist. The legislation was co-sponsored by the Republican rightwing senator, Jesse Helms, and the Democratic senators Hilary Clinton (now Secretary of State), Joseph Biden (now Vice-President) and Russell Feingold.

Helms died in early July, 2008. He denounced the 1964 Civil Rights Act, was a spokesman for the tobacco industry and was a slum landlord. He opposed school bussing, fought against compensation for Japanese Americans, and hated Communists. He complained that public schools were being used “to teach our children that cannibalism, wife-swapping, and the murder of infants and the elderly are acceptable behavior.” [3] Helms was also fond of sanctions. He co-authored the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, which tightened the blockade on Cuba.

The MDC had always been reluctant to admit that sanctions had crippled Zimbabwe’s economy, and more reluctant still to call for their removal. This is to be expected. In opposition, the MDC’s goal was to blame the government for the country’s economic difficulties. If it could do so convincingly, and at the same time persuade voters it could do a better job, it chances of prevailing at the polls would increase accordingly. Likewise, if it refused to add to the pressure on Western governments to lift sanctions, and even encouraged Western governments to maintain or escalate them, the government would remain burdened with the political liability of an ailing economy. But times have changed. The MDC has formed a coalition government with Zanu-PF, and the MDC controls the finance ministry. Sanctions are no longer in the party’s interest, and the MDC has, as a consequence, changed its tune. Not only does it now acknowledge ZDERA, the finance minister, Tendai Biti, complains about it bitterly.

“The World Bank has right now billions and billions of dollars that we have access to but we can’t access those dollars unless we have dealt with and normalized our relations with the IMF. We cannot normalize our relations with the IMF because of the voting power, it’s a blocking voting power of America and people who represent America on that board cannot vote differently because of ZDERA.” [4]

As bad as ZDERA is, it’s not the only sanctions regime the United States has used to sabotage Zimbabwe’s economy. Addressing the Senate Foreign Relations African Affairs Subcommittee, Jendaya Frazer, who was George W. Bush’s top diplomat in Africa, noted that the United States had imposed financial and travel restrictions on 135 individuals and 30 businesses. US citizens and corporations who violate the sanctions face penalties ranging from $250,000 to $500,000. “We are looking to expand the category of Zimbabweans who are covered. We are also looking at sanctions on government entities as well, not just individuals.” She added that the US Treasury Department was looking into ways to target sectors of Zimbabwe’s critical mining industry. [5]

On July 25, 2008 Bush announced that sanctions on Zimbabwe would be stepped up. He outlawed US financial transactions with a number of key Zimbabwe companies and froze their US assets. The enterprises included: the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (which controls all mineral exports); the Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company; Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe; Osleg, or Operation Sovereign Legitimacy, the commercial arm of Zimbabwe’s army; Industrial Development Corporation; the Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe; ZB Financial Holdings; and the Agriculture Development Bank of Zimbabwe. [6]

In early March 2009, Obama extended sanctions for another year, announcing that,

“The crisis constituted by the actions and policies of certain members of the government of Zimbabwe and other persons to undermine Zimbabwe’s democratic processes or institutions has not been resolved. These actions and policies pose a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States.” [7]

It would be more accurate to say that US sanctions pose a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat to the economy of Zimbabwe.

Topping off the falsehoods in Obama’s speech was his assurance to Africans that “African-Americans…have thrived in every sector of (US) society.” This is nonsense. Income, employment, education and opportunity are profoundly unequal in the United States, and inequality is bound up with race. The per capita income of blacks in the United States is 40 percent lower than that of whites. One in four blacks live in poverty, compared to eight percent of whites. The proportion of blacks without health insurance is twice that of whites. [8] And the official seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for blacks in June 2009 was almost twice as high as the jobless rate for whites. [9]

The degree to which blacks haven’t thrived is evident in who languishes in the country’s jails. While the United States has only five percent of the world’s population, it has one-quarter of the world’s prisoner population, and US prisoners are disproportionately black. One-third of black males born in 2001 are expected to be imprisoned at some point in their lifetime, compared to six percent of white males. [10] Poor, unemployed, without health insurance and in prison. That’s hardly thriving.

Jaw dropping hypocrisy

As leader of a country currently engaged in three wars of aggression (Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan) and which threatens to escalate its aggressions against Iran and north Korea, one might think Obama would be ashamed to lecture anyone on the importance of resolving conflicts peacefully. But US presidents know no shame. Boldly, Obama told Africans that “for far too many Africans, conflict is a part of life, as constant as the sun. There are wars over land and wars over resources.” Africans, he continued, must learn the “peaceful resolution of conflict.”

Indeed, there are wars over land and wars over resources, and this, the United States knows well, for over the course of its history it has initiated many of them, and most of the wars over land and resources over the past 60 years have been planned at the Pentagon. The United States’ vast military, which Washington methodically nurtures through the misappropriated tax dollars of ordinary US citizens, allows the country to dominate and plunder much of the world, while at the same time piling up profits for US corporations engaged in “defense” industry work.

Particularly galling is the reality that the United States had a hand in the bloodiest and deadliest war on the continent.

“In early May 1997, when it became apparent to western observers that the broad coalition of rebel forces in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) headed by veteran freedom fighter, Laurent Kabila, would eventually topple the Mobutu kleptocracy and establish ‘a popular government, linking all sectors of our society,’ the Financial Times, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and others in the corporate media slowly began to criticize the ‘excesses’ of the CIA-installed Mobutu regime, in power since 1965. But at the same time they began a relentless campaign against Kabila and the rebel coalition.

“The Wall Street Journal spoke of Kabila as an ‘ideological throwback’ to the politics of the 1960s. It decried his relationship with Che Guevara, who had gone to the Congo in the early l960s to work with a progressive coalition (including Kabila) to support the Patrice Lumumba forces and to oust another CIA-installed regime, which had been installed in the diamond-rich region of Katanga. The Journal warned that ‘western interests’ would now be in jeopardy under Kabila.

“For thirteen months, Kabila sought to consolidate a broad coalition to democratize and develop the Congo. But by August 1998, two neighboring states, Rwanda and Uganda, aligned with ethnic forces inside the Congo, (and backed by Washington) invaded several towns and cities. Both invading countries charged Kabila with ‘corruption’ and human rights violations, and with being ‘undemocratic.’

“Both Rwanda and Uganda are governed by de facto military regimes. Both governments are hosts to U.S. military training facilities and U.S. military personnel. The Congo has been regarded by leading scientists and economists as one of the most mineral-rich countries in the world. It contains roughly 70 percent of the world’s cobalt. More than half of the U.S. military’s cobalt comes from the Congo. It is the second largest producer of diamonds in the world and is known for large deposits of gold, manganese, and copper. The Congo’s peculiar type of high-grade uranium was used by the U.S. to make the atom bombs that were dropped on Japan in WWII. And the U.S. dominates mining in that area even today.” [11]

An estimated five million died in the war from 1998 to 2003. The conflict continues, with 45,000 people dying each month from war-related causes, primarily hunger and disease. [12] And yet war in the DRCongo is barely mentioned in the Western media. Instead, attention is focused on Darfur, home to vast oil reserves the United States does not control, but would like to lay its hands on. Raising public alarm over Darfur is a way of manufacturing consent for Western intervention in Sudan. The outcome – and unstated goal – of such an intervention would be to bring another oil-rich country under Washington’s domination.

“The United Nations has estimated some 300,000 may have died in total as a result of the years of conflict in Darfur; the same number die from the Congo conflict every six and a half months. And yet, in the New York Times, which covers the Congo more than most U.S. outlets, Darfur has consistently received more coverage since it emerged as a media story in 2004. The Times gave Darfur nearly four times the coverage it gave the Congo in 2006, while Congolese were dying of war-related causes at nearly 10 times the rate of those in Darfur. “[13]

Washington also orchestrated a recent war in Somalia. In 2006, the US-backed, UN-recognized government of Somalia was limited to the inland town of Baidoa. Mogadishu, the capital, had fallen to Islamic militias, who had formed a de facto government in June of that year. The militias’ power wasn’t based on their military strength, which consisted only of a few hundred armed pickup trucks and a few thousand fighters, but in their popular support. In the capital Mogadishu, the Islamists organized neighborhood cleanups, delivered food to the needy and brought dormant national institutions like the Supreme Court back to life.

According to Ted Dagne, the African analyst at the Congressional Research Service in Washington, the de facto government provided “a sense of stability in Somalia, education and other services, while the warlords maimed and killed innocent civilians.” What’s more, “instead of acting like the Taliban and ruthlessly imposing a harsh religious orthodoxy” the Islamists delivered social services and pushed for democratic elections.

That’s when General John P. Abizaid of the United States Central Command, or Centcom, flew to neighboring Ethiopia to meet Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who told the US proconsul that he could cripple the Islamist forces in one to two weeks. Abizaid gave the Ethiopian prime minister the go ahead, and soon Ethiopian soldiers — trained by US military advisors — were flooding over the border into Somalia. [14] The United States supplied battlefield intelligence, the US Fifth Fleet enforced a naval blockade, US Marines deployed along Somalia’s border with Kenya, and US AC-130 gunships, operating out of Djibouti, struck targets within Somalia. [15]

The invasion was a brazen affront to the United Nations Charter. Somalia hadn’t threatened Ethiopia, and indeed, couldn’t. With a few hundred armed pickup trucks, Somali forces posed no danger to surrounding countries. And yet there wasn’t a peep a protest from the “international community”.

The war created what has been called Africa’s largest and most ignored catastrophe. One million Somalis were displaced. Some 10,000 were killed. [16] And the United States, whose president counsels Africans to learn to resolve conflicts peacefully, started it.

To discourage what Obama views as Africa’s addiction to war, the US president pledged to “stand behind efforts to hold war criminals accountable.” What he didn’t say was that he meant African war criminals, and only the ones who aren’t puppets of the West. Obama has no intention of holding accountable either Meles Zenawi or Western war criminals (including his predecessor; former British prime minister Tony Blair; or himself) or CIA operatives who used torture and those who authorized their crimes. Instead, he says, he would rather look forward, not backward. White war criminals are to be forgiven; black war criminals, who fail to toe the imperialist line, are to be held accountable.

The body through which most African war criminals are to be held accountable is the International Criminal Court (ICC), a court the United States itself refuses to join, on grounds its soldiers and officials would face frivolous prosecutions. If the United States would face frivolous prosecutions, why not other countries? The ICC has received

“2,889 communications about alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in at least 139 countries, and yet by March 2009, the prosecutor had opened investigations into just four cases: Uganda, DRCongo, the Central African Republic, and Sudan/Darfur. All of them in Africa. Thirteen public warrants of arrest have been issued, all against Africans.” [17]

Conspicuously absent from the list of opened investigations are the perpetrators of the world’s most blatant recent war crimes: the US, Britain and Israel.

Yes, but “there cannot be an African exception to (the Nuremberg) principles,” argues David Crane, who was chief prosecutor for the special court on Sierra Leone (which is trying former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, for doing what practically every US president since World War II has done: support rebel troops in another country.) Crane’s “no African exceptions” cry is taken up by the Western media. Referring to Taylor’s trial, Guardian columnist Phil Clark, wrote that “for many, the trial represents another victory for international justice and another signal for the end of impunity for the likes of Taylor, Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein and Alberto Fujimori.” [18] He might have added, but not for George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, P.W. Botha, and Ian Smith. The Western media and state officials don’t seem to be concerned about the impunity of these war criminals. The reality that there have been many African exceptions to humanitarian law – where whites are concerned – seems to have escaped the notice of Crane, a white US citizen, who indicted Taylor, a black African.

Martin Kargbo wonders why the West insists that black Africans be held accountable, while celebrating the truth and reconciliation commissions which have granted impunity to white war criminals.

“Impunity has not been an issue in DRCongo where the wars waged by Rwanda and Uganda between 1996 and 2003 on behalf of America and Western interests have led to an estimated five million deaths in Congo…

“Impunity, again, was not an issue when South Africa decided in 1994, in the interest of national peace and stability to forgive the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity – people who had terrorized and killed black Africans for 50 long years during the apartheid era. And no human rights group said it was wrong to forgive P.W. Botha & Co.

“Impunity was also not an issue when Zimbabwe decided in 1980 in the interest of national peace and stability to forgive the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity – people who had terrorized and killed black Africans for decades before independence. And no human rights group said it was wrong to forgive Ian Smith and Co.

“Impunity was again not an issue when Namibia did the same thing in 1990 — to forgive the atrocities committed against black people during the pre-independence era. And no human rights group spoke against Namibia’s act of forgiveness.” [19]

Obama also promised to “support strong and sustainable democratic governments” while supporting the strong, but hardly democratic, Egyptian government, with $1 billion per year in military aid. Washington has also been instrumental in undermining the popularly elected Hamas government. These two examples – and only two of many – show that Washington has no commitment to democracy abroad. It’s all rhetoric. Washington supports governments which enlarge the interests of the US ruling class, whether democratic or not, and opposes foreign governments which don’t, whether democratic or not. US democracy promotion, a multi-million dollar per year industry that does what the CIA used to do covertly, is simply a cover for regime change carried out by non-military means in countries that are open enough to allow US agents and fifth columns sufficient room to maneuver. Obama’s administration will continue to run “democracy promotion” programs, working to ensure that foreign governments that pursue independent paths of development, including those in Africa, are overthrown.

Promoting the profit interests of US capital

Washington wants Africa to be a profitable place in which US corporations, banks and investors can do business. Africans want foreign investment to help Africa develop. It seems like a win-win situation. If Africa does what’s necessary to help foreign investors reap handsome profits, corporate America gets profits and Africans get investment.

But the history of Africa’s engagement with the world economy hasn’t been the win-win situation US politicians and the West’s mass media promise. Instead, foreign capital has profited and Africans have remained deeply mired in poverty.

That’s because foreign capital can win bigger if it doesn’t have to share the economic surplus it expropriates with the people who produce it. So, it goes for the big prize.

And why wouldn’t it? Foreign capital, like all capital, wants to maximize profits. So it demands a low wage environment, unburdened by corporate taxes or stringent environmental regulations, in which profits can be taken out of the country, and in which governments abjure efforts to meet social goals by making demands on corporations and investors. Those with capital to invest don’t want to pay high taxes (or any taxes at all if they can get away with it), comply with expensive environmental regulations, pay high wages, or be forced to take on local partners. They don’t want to have to invest any of their profits in the host country if a higher return on investment can be obtained elsewhere. Neither do foreign corporations and investors want local governments to give local businesses a hand up by offering subsidies and tariff protections. And they don’t want profitable areas of investment – like energy, telecommunication and banking – placed off limits. In short, all of the measures a local government might implement to satisfy local development needs – mandated re-investment of profits, state-controlled enterprises, foreign investment restrictions, price controls and meaningful minimum wage laws, a heavily graduated tax, and so on — are anathema to foreign capital.

In addition, foreign corporations, banks and investors want a business environment that is free from the threat of disruption by war, strikes and insurrections, and in which private productive property is protected from corruption and expropriation. Delivering what businesses want is called good governance.

As Obama explained,

“No country is going to create wealth (Obama means: for investors) if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves, or police can be bought off by drug traffickers. No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent off the top, or the head of the port authority is corrupt.”

In Washington’s view, good governance is created when societies are sufficiently open to domination by those who own the most wealth – that is, by those who own and control the world economy. For example, multi-party electoral democracy is lauded because it allows those who assume a leadership role in representing the interests of capital, to have the best chance of being elected. They’re able to attract the funding that allows them to run effective campaigns. And what, as a consequence, ends up being a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, has enormous apparent legitimacy because it is based on an electoral exercise.

Likewise, a “free” society in which “anyone” can open a newspaper can seem to legitimately have independent journalists, even though the only people in a position to open their own newspaper and command a mass audience are members of the class that owns the society’s productive property. An open society with a vibrant civil society which participates in the society’s governance is also one in which the wealthy can pursue their interests by furnishing the funding on which civil society depends. This allows capital to influence the agenda of civil society through its funding decisions. In short, any government trying to achieve authentically democratic goals can be more readily opposed if it provides sufficient space for foreign capital to operate through strong parliaments, independent journalists and a vibrant civil society.

Accordingly, Obama speaks glowingly of institutions that open up space for foreign money to operate.

“In the 21st century, capable, reliable and transparent institutions are the key to success – strong parliaments and honest police forces; independent judges and journalists; a vibrant private sector and civil society. Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in peoples’ lives.”

In point of fact, what matters in peoples’ lives — that is, in the lives of ordinary people, and not the bankers, corporate lawyers and CEOs that Obama cares about — is having enough to eat, a job, shelter, clothing, health care, recreation, time with friends and family, dignity and social justice. Strong parliaments, journalists employed by the capitalist press, and a strong private sector, create environments adapted to capital accumulation; they have little to do with restoring stolen land to its rightful owners; investing the economic surplus created at home in local development; and using state-owned enterprises and fiscal and monetary policy to satisfy social welfare goals.

Sound advice, if taken literally

“Just as it is important to emerge from the control of another nation,” observed Obama, “it is even more important to build one’s own.” And yet most African countries remain economic colonies of the West, their independence limited to political forms (their own flag, parliaments and political leaders) but whose economies are dominated by Western banks, foreign corporations, and the descendants of European settlers; whose militaries are trained and funded by the United States, Britain and France; and who rely on aid from Western governments, and receive it, in return for political and economic concessions. African countries that have followed Obama’s advice to build their own countries have been harassed, undermined, destabilized, sanctioned and in many cases have seen their governments overthrown by the US and former colonial masters who pay lip service to independent development, but are deeply hostile to it. US presidents don’t want Africans to build their own countries. They want them to turn their countries over to the US business elite, and to continue to do so indefinitely.

Under the leadership of Zanu-PF, Zimbabweans have tried to build their own country according to their own needs, expropriating land confiscated by European settlers when the former colonial master, Britain, reneged on its promise to fund land reform. Zanu-PF has also led efforts to bring Zimbabwe’s resources and economy under the control of indigenous Zimbabweans, following methods reminiscent of the ones south Korea used to industrialize. But while south Korea’s subsidies, tariff protections and foreign ownership restrictions were tolerated by Washington as a necessary evil of the Cold War –- south Korea needed to be given space to develop into a capitalist showpiece on the Cold War’s frontlines – Washington has been unwilling to tolerate Zimbabwe’s efforts to follow the same path.

Kwame Nkrumah, who led Ghana, the first African country to achieve independence, argued that the less developed world would not become developed through the goodwill and generosity of the developed world. Instead, it would only become developed by struggle against the external forces – foreign corporations, banks and investors — that had a vested interest in keeping it underdeveloped. [20] Nkrumah would have agreed with Obama that “Africa’s future is up to Africans.” He would surely have disagreed with Obama’s prescription for how Africa ought to arrive at its future.

1. Discussion of south Korea’s development strategy, free trade, and corruption based on Ha-Joon Chang, Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism, Bloomsbury Press, New York, 2008.
2. “President Signs Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, December 21, 2001. http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/12/200111221-15.html
3. The Guardian (UK), July 4, 2008.
4. The Herald (Zimbabwe) May 5, 2009.
5. TalkZimbabwe.com, July 16, 2008.
6. The New York Times, July 26, 2008; The Washington Post, July 26, 2008; The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe), July 27, 2008.
7. “Obama extends Zimbabwe sanctions,” TalkZimbabwe.com, March 8, 2009.
8. US Census Bureau Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2007, August 2008.
9. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey.
10. US Bureau of Justice Statistics, cited in Hannah Holleman, Robert W. McChesney, John Bellamy Foster and R. Jamil Jonna, “The Penal State in an Age of Crisis,” Monthly Review, Vol. 61, No. 2, June, 2009.
11. Elombe Brath and Samori Marksman, “Conflict in the Congo: An Interview with President Laurent Kabila,” Covert Action Quarterly, Winter, 1999, Issue 66.
12. Julie Hollar, “Congo Ignored, Not Forgotten,”
Extra, Magazine of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, May 2009.
13. Ibid.
14. Stephen Gowans, “US fomenting war in Somalia,” What’s Left, December 15, 2006, http://gowans.blogspot.com/2006/12/us-fomenting-war-in-somalia.html
15. Stephen Gowans, “Another US military intervention,” What’s Left, January 11, 2007, http://gowans.blogspot.com/2007/01/another-us-military-intervention.html
16. Stephanie McCrummen, “With Ethiopian pullout, Islamists rise again in Somalia,” The Washington Post, January 22, 2009; Stephen Gowans, “Spielberg: Chauvinist in humanitarian drag,” What’s Left, February 13, 2008. https://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/02/13/spielberg-chauvinist-in-humanitarian-drag/
17. “Selective Justice,” The New African, No. 484, May 2009.
18. Phil Clark, “Can Africa trust international justice?” The Guardian (UK) July 16, 2009.
19. Martin Kargbo, “The case against the ICC,” New African, July, 2009.
20. Kwame Nkrumah, Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, Thomas Nelson & Sons, Ltd., London, 1965. http://www.marxists.org/subject/africa/nkrumah/neo-colonialism/index.htm

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July 17, 2009 at 9:55 pm

Zimbabwe, Africa and Neo-Colonialism

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Following are excerpts from a press conference given by Robert Mugabe at the African Union General Assembly in early July 2009. The interview was published in Zimbabwe’s The Herald, July 6, 2009.

Q: Your Excellency, what is happening in Africa seems to be a realisation of the Pan-Africanism ideology. Would you say that, that idealism about bringing Africa together is still alive or it’s something that is being pushed by what is happening somewhere else?

A: I think over the recent few years gone by there has been a development, a development I think which was more determined by the economic situations of our countries and a situation that greater reliance on Western funding would assist our economies in transforming, and because of that naturally if you are a beggar, you cannot at the same time prescribe, you see, the rules of how you should be given whether it’s food or any items at all.

So we were subjected to certain conditionalities as a basis on which whatever was paid, be it food, be it humanitarian aid in other directions, was sent to us.

And in some countries, you see, they did not have even the necessary economic capacity, which could enable them to sustain their civil service, their security arms — the army, airforce and the police force — without outside help.

And once you are inadequate in terms of funding yourselves monetarily and you have got to look outside for someone to assist you, and that someone outside naturally dictates conditions on you, and the moment that happens you have lost a bit of your own sovereign right to determine how you run your affairs.

Those who give you money will naturally determine how you should run your country, and through that we tended to subject ourselves to the will of outsiders, to the will, even, of our erstwhile colonisers. It was neo-colonialism back again, what Nkrumah called neo-colonialism.

There it was, it was crammed into our system, they were deciding how we should run our elections; who should be in government, who should not, regime changes, that nonsense.

So our Pan-Africanism was lost because Pan-Africanism was based on the right of Africa determining its own future, the right of Africa standing on its own, and being the master of its own destiny, master of its own resources that had been lost.

But I think it is coming back because many countries have now realised that the West does not give money to enable us to build the capacity we require to be independent.

They will give you little funds, you know. ‘Yes, you are afflicted by this epidemic, we will give you a bit of help here and there.’

‘You are suffering from the effects of drought, yes, a bit of food here and there et cetera, et cetera’, but with conditions that you run your system in a given way.

That now is our realisation. The funds we have been getting are, by and large, little humanitarian bits and pieces of funds. This has not helped Africa to industrialise. Just look around and tell me which country in Africa has industrialised?

Yes, you have South Africa, which has inherited that system of development, but the rest of Africa; we are still where we were.

There is no funding with an investment capacity from the West that will enable us to move from primary agriculture to secondary stages of development. They do not want us, the West, to be that.

They do not want us to be their equals, they enjoy being masters over us and this is what Zimbabwe rejects.

…look at the little funds (Western governments) were giving (in response to a request from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai), and giving mainly for humanitarian purposes.

And how given?

Through NGOs and what do NGOs mean in our own situation where Government is running a country, running a country with definite demands, you see, in various sectors?

What they think of first is their own NGOs so that the money is absorbed by their own agents in the first place. Or it comes in a crooked way to serve their own political objectives in our country.

The Chinese fund does not come in that way. It has been targeted rightly, it’s a fund coming to Government not NGOs, to Government, an inclusive Government, towards development and will assist us in turning around the economy, and that is the kind of help we would want to get, and not the Western dictates.

Q: Do you think there has been a realisation within the parties in the GPA that the West is only there to dictate the pace at which Africa develops, especially when you consider that the Prime Minister had gone for two weeks in Europe and America and got back with virtually nothing?

A: The lesson is there for everyone with a bit of brains to learn, and those who have not learnt the lesson that the West is always up to mischief, if they have not learnt that lesson, then they won’t have any lesson to learn or they are hand-in-glove with the enemy.

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July 6, 2009 at 2:42 pm

Affinity for Autocrats or National Independence?

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By Stephen Gowans

Turning the threatened into the aggressor: Media distortions in coverage of north Korea’s nuclear test,” posted here on May 31, 2009, was published by the Zimbabwe newspaper The Herald in two installments a few days later. In a reference to the article, a June 12, 2009 New York Times report by Celia W. Dugger notes that “The Herald published a two-part defense of North Korea’s nuclear tests.” Dugger cites this as an example of Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe flaunting “his affinity for autocrats.” Mugabe, Dugger writes, “still controls” the Herald, which is state-owned. Dugger also points to Mugabe’s welcoming “Sudan’s president Omar Hassan al-Bashir, charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court, to a summit meeting attended by African heads of state” as a further example of Mugabe’s “affinity for autocrats.”

“Turning the threatened into the aggressor” points out that the behavior of the north Korean government can be understood as a response to the United States, Japan and south Korea taking a more confrontational approach to their dealings with Pyongyang, and not to an inherent belligerence on the part of north Korea or a desire to extort rewards. Confrontation has been Washington’s standard operating procedure from the moment the Workers’ Party – the governing party in north Korea — was formed in 1948, but the degree of confrontation has varied with the circumstances. In the early 1990s, with the Soviet Union’s collapse depriving the Pentagon of its principal bogeyman, then top general Colin Powell complained he was down to just two targets: Fidel Castro and north Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung, who, at the time, was still alive. With the Soviet Union being succeeded by a prostrate Russia returned to capitalism, the United States retargeted some of its strategic nuclear weapons on a then non-nuclear north Korea. When north Korea withdrew from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in protest, signaling its intention to build its own nuclear weapons if it was going to face the threat of nuclear annihilation by the United States, Washington was forced to try to arrive at an accommodation. This it did when the Clinton administration negotiated the Agreed Framework, which saw north Korea shut down its plutonium reactor, which could be readily used to produce fuel for nuclear weapons, in exchange for fuel oil to tide it over until two light water reactors could be built to supply its energy needs. Pyongyang stuck to its end of the deal – despite the US delaying promised fuel oil shipments and tarrying on building the light-water reactors – until the Bush administration ripped up the agreement, accusing north Korea of operating a secret uranium enrichment program. A subsequent deal worked out during the so-called six party talks collapsed, largely because the Bush administration was divided over whether to work toward an accommodation or to pressure north Korea through threats and sanctions into collapse. North Korea eventually gave up on the deal when Washington signaled its refusal to normalize relations and demanded an intrusive verification protocol.

Bullying north Korea, the strategy that eventually gained the upper hand under Bush, and continues to be the favored strategy under Obama, was bound to produce only two outcomes: either the government in Pyongyang would capitulate or north Korea would restart its nuclear program. The north Korean government didn’t collapse, and missile launches and a nuclear test were carried out instead.

The magazine Foreign Policy, which reflects the position of the US foreign policy establishment, echoes the point. Asking whether the next north Korean leadership will give up the country’s nuclear weapons, Jennifer Lind, a professor of government at Dartmouth College, provides the answer by inviting readers to perform a thought experiment. Put yourself in the north Korean leadership’s shoes.

“Bristling enemies surround you. To the south is a country with double your population and 20 times your GDP. The southern neighbor has spent the past six decades preparing its large army to annihilate yours. In stark contrast to your army, its healthy young men and women train regularly. (Your hungry soldiers can’t train for want of fuel; they spend all of their time fixing roads or bribing officials for smuggling opportunities.) The enemy boasts state-of-the-art weapons technology. (You can’t find spare parts for your 1950s relics.)

“Oh, and that country has a friend. It’s the global superpower, a country of such vast economic might that your GDP is just a rounding error in comparison. Your people never go a day without thinking about how that country, 60 years ago, burned yours to the ground in an incendiary bombing campaign. Its people have absently labeled that episode “the forgotten war.” Today, that country has more military power than the rest of the world combined, and a large nuclear arsenal trained on your palace.

“The superpower recently overran not one but two countries (that lacked nuclear weapons) and is batting around the idea of attacking another (that lacks nuclear weapons). You watched when the superpower conquered Iraq without breaking a sweat and briskly put bullet holes through the leaders’ sons. Your eyes widened when the superpower dragged a grizzled Saddam Hussein blinking out of a rat-hole, put him in an orange jumpsuit, and then hung him brokenly from a gallows.” (1)

My article may not have painted US foreign policy as the expression of benign intent The New York Times painstakingly constructs every day in the pages of its newspaper, but exploring the surrounding events that have conditioned north Korea’s nuclear tests hardly amounts to expressing an affinity for autocrats. It does, however, signal an affinity for national independence and those willing to fight to protect it.

At the same time, Mugabe’s welcoming Sudan’s president to a summit meeting of African heads of state is not an expression of affinity for autocrats, either. It is, more likely, an expression of solidarity with a leader who has been targeted by an illegitimate court. While Dugger may regard the court as valid, even though her own country does not (it refuses to sign on to it), it has little legitimacy elsewhere, and even less in Africa, where it is seen correctly as a tool for bullying weaker countries by superpowers who will never be targeted by the court’s prosecutors, not because they haven’t committed grave crimes that fall under the court’s jurisdiction, but because they exercise enormous influence over the court and can block its investigations. For the ICC, justice is a spiderweb: the weak get caught in it and the great powers, which created and preside over it, lurk in the shadows, ready to pounce on prized delicacies that stumble into it.

“By October 2007, the ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, had received 2,889 communications about alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in at least 139 countries, and yet by March 2009, the prosecutor had opened investigations into just four cases: Uganda, DRCongo, the Central African Republic, and Sudan/Darfur. All of them in Africa. Thirteen public warrants of arrest have been issued, all against Africans.” (2)

The court, which is supposed to deal with four groups of crimes — genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression (and not just in Africa) – has been conspicuously silent on Israel’s January assault on the Gaza Strip, and on the humanitarian crisis touched off by Washington’s and London’s war of aggression on Iraq. No surprise. As Robin Cook, then British foreign secretary, explained, “If I may say so, this is not a court set up to bring to book prime ministers of the United Kingdom or presidents of the United States.” (3) It is, on the contrary, a court to target Africans who refuse to be controlled and dominated by the West. As author John Laughland summed it up, the ICC is “just another excuse for superpower bullying.” (4)

The Herald’s publishing of my article tracing Pyongyang’s nuclear tests to north Korea’s fierce commitment to independence, and Mugabe’s welcoming of Bashir, are not expressions of an affinity for autocrats, but for the fight for national independence. It is fitting that Zimbabwe, whose heroes took up arms to achieve independence from white colonial rule, and which has struggled to invest its political independence with substantive economic content, would express an affinity with fraternal countries whose peoples continue to fight for meaningful national independence in the face of Western military threats, sanctions and politically-inspired international courts.

1. Jennifer Lind, “Next of Kim,” Foreign Policy (Web exclusive), June 2009.
2. “Selective Justice,” The New African, No. 484, May 2009.
3. Millius Palayiwa, “What’s the ICC up to?” The New African, No. 484, May 2009.
4. The Times (London), August 29, 2000.

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June 12, 2009 at 10:12 pm

Mollycoddling Mubarak, Mugging Mugabe

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By Stephen Gowans

Led by the United States, Western countries spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year on what they called democracy promotion. This usually involves promoting pro-private property, pro-free trade, and pro-foreign investment forces in foreign countries where these principles are not firmly implanted. Generous funding is showered upon media, human rights groups, and election monitors that oppose governments whose attachment is less than absolute to the three major freedoms of capitalist ideology (the 3Fs)– free-trade, free-enterprise, and free-markets. Pro-3F political parties, like the Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe, and in previous years, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, are provided with training, expert advice, strategic consulting and campaign funds to help them win elections (1). Experts on how to destabilize governments through civil disobedience are dispatched to train nonviolent pro-democracy activists to topple governments that have come to power in elections the West’s preferred 3F candidates have failed to win.

Democracy promotion is not the sole purview of the executive branches of Western governments. Parliaments and the US Congress are involved, as well as Western political parties, organized labor, business lobby organizations, foundations, think tanks and billionaire speculator, George Soros.

Most often, democracy promoters set their sights on countries that hold regular multi-party elections but elect people who fail to genuflect deeply enough to US domination, private property and free markets. Democracy does not, of course, mean private property, free trade and unfettered foreign investment, but in order to marshal public opinion for interventions abroad, democracy promoters implicitly equate capitalism, or anything that favors the unrestricted accumulation of profits by Western banks and corporations, with democracy. US officials often talk of democracy and free markets in the same breath, as if they’re more or less equal. This is far from true. Democracy in the close-to-the-original sense of rule by those who have no private ownership rights to productive property, is deeply inimical to the idea of an economic system that vests productive property in private hands. Even so, democracy promoters insist on treating capitalism and democracy as essentially equal, or if not equal, then complementary.

This explains why democracy promoters are often absent from countries that promote Western capitalist interests, but are not democratic. Saudi Arabia, an absolutist state ruled by a single family, is a good example. There is nothing democratic about Saudi Arabia. There are few civil liberties. Women are oppressed. There are no elections. And power rests in the hands of a tiny hereditary elite. Yet the oil-rich kingdom, whose petro-dollars are recycled through New York investment banks, is not on the democracy promoters’ radar screen.

Egypt is another example of an authoritarian country that is pretty much left alone by democracy promoters. Under the country’s president, Hosni Mubarak, some political parties are banned, bloggers have been detained by the police for criticizing the government (2), and the president has only ever run in a contested election once. Ayman Nour, Mubarak’s opponent, was detained before the election, and while he was eventually allowed to campaign, was quickly re-arrested after the election.

Mubarak’s son, Gamal, who “has never taken a bus, never stopped at a red light, never met anyone who wasn’t cleared by security services,” (3) is expected to step into the presidency when his father retires. Gamal is said to have the business class behind him. His father has the United States behind him. Under pere Mubarak, Egypt’s socialist-oriented reforms of the 1960s have been dismantled, and Egypt acts as one of Washington’s cops on the Middle Eastern beat. To fulfill that role, Washington has pumped almost $8 billion in aid into Egypt’s military over the last five years. (4)

If Mubarak is a virtual dictator who locks up critics, jails opponents, and bans political parties, why does US president Barack Obama call him a force for “good” and deny charges that Mubarak is “an authoritarian leader”? (5) Washington maintains sanctions on Zimbabwe because it says the country’s president, Robert Mugabe — who regularly runs in contested elections, hasn’t banned political parties, and hasn’t arranged a hereditary succession — is authoritarian, anti-democratic and has clung to power too long (he has been in power only one year longer than Mubarak.) Yet Mubarak, the anti-socialist, pro-imperialist point man for Washington, is praised by Obama and propped up with military aid, while Mugabe, the land reforming, anti-imperialist, is targeted for regime change.

Or how about the recently deceased Omar Bongo, who ruled Gabon for 41 years? While Western newspapers and politicians compete to see who can unleash the most vitriolic denunciation of Robert Mugabe for his 29 years in office, Bongo escaped their disapproving notice. And yet here was a man the democracy promoters would surely despise. He won overwhelming majorities in elections routinely denounced as fraudulent, was criticized for a poor human rights record that included limits on freedom of speech, torture and arbitrary arrest, and used his office to become immensely wealthy. Bongo lived extravagantly in a $500 million presidential palace while collecting sumptuous properties in and around Paris. And yet despite Bongo’s kleptocracy and disdain for democracy, he was “France’s point man in the region” and was long viewed as France’s “special partner.” Significantly, “France maintains a military base in the capital, Libreville, (and) has extensive oil interests in the country”, (6) which explains why Bongo was known as a “special partner” and “point man”, rather than a “thug,” “thief” and “dictator.” It also explains why the ultimate democracy promotion organization, the US Congress’s National Endowment for Democracy, has dozens of programs in Zimbabwe to get rid of Mugabe and his Zimbabwe-first policies, but not one in Gabon to get rid of Bongo and his Western oil interests-first policies.

For a brief period, the Bush administration pushed Egypt to hold elections. Bush had announced his Freedom Agenda, a plan to promote democracy throughout the Middle East. As part of the agenda, elections were also to be held for the Palestinian Legislative Council. Democracy promotion funding pored into Egypt from Washington and “Mubarak initially responded by allowing an unprecedented degree of political freedom.” But when members of the Muslim Brotherhood (the same organization that produced Hamas) “did well at the polls, Egypt’s security apparatus cracked down. The Bush administration, concerned about pushing a key ally too far, responded meekly. And that, arguably, marked the inglorious end of the Freedom Agenda.” (7) The election of Hamas in January 2006 was no less an inglorious occasion for the Bush scheme. So ill-conceived was allowing electoral democracy to flourish in the Middle East, that Pentagon officials wondered “who the fuck recommended this?” (8)

The response to Hamas’s election was to immediately freeze the new government’s funding. If Palestinians refused to elect the right people, their vote would be negated. Hamas wouldn’t be allowed to govern. In Egypt, the White House eliminated American funding for democracy promotion and announced that neither military nor civilian funding would be conditional on democratic reforms. (9) The Obama administration has followed suit, paring back the funding Mubarak’s political opponents would have used to challenge Washington’s “point man” in Egypt. (10)

With the Bush administration’s brief dalliance with promoting democracy in the Middle East having gone terribly awry, Washington – with Obama now at the helm — has learned its lesson. And so democracy promotion returns to its accustomed paradigm. As always, fifth columns continue to be funded under the guise of promoting democracy, the goal to install new point men for Western economic elites where reliable ones don’t already exist. Elsewhere, the autocrats who are already point men are once again left in peace, untroubled by elections, democracy and freedom agendas.

1. Stephen Gowans, “US Government Report Undermines Zimbabwe Opposition’s Claim of Independence,” What’s Left, October 4, 2008, https://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/10/04/us-government-report-undermines-zimbabwe-opposition%e2%80%99s-claim-of-independence/
2. Jeffrey Fleishman, “In Egypt, a blogger tries to spread ‘culture of disobedience’ among youths,” The Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2009.
3. Patrick Martin, “Who will be Mubarak’s heir?” The Globe and Mail (Toronto), March 23, 2009.
4. Andrew Albertson and Stephen McInerney, “Don’t give up on Egypt,” Foreignpolicy.com, June 2009.
5. Michael Slackman, “Arab states cool to Obama pleas for peace gesture,” The New York Times, June 3, 2009.
6. Adam Mossiter, “Omar Bongo, Gabon Leader, Dies at 73,” The New York Times, June 9, 2009.
7. James Traub, “Obama realism may not play well in Cairo streets,” The New York Times, May 31, 2009.
8. “The Gaza Bombshell,” Vanity Fair, April 2008.
9. James Traub, “Obama realism may not play well in Cairo streets, The New York Times, May 31, 2009.
10. Andrew Albertson and Stephen McInerney, “Don’t give up on Egypt,” Foreignpolicy.com, June 2009.

Written by what's left

June 10, 2009 at 10:38 pm

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