By Paul Richard Harris, Axis of Logic and Bill Van Auken, WSWS
World Socialist Web Site
Wednesday, Jan 23, 2013
Whenever some country – or even a whole continent – is being screwed over, it is natural to look to the United States as the perpetrator. Bill Van Auken (BVA) does just that in the article that follows. It is a pretty safe guess – the US is the world’s premier screw-overer. And there is nothing to argue about what BVA writes here – he is spot on. But it is perhaps useful to examine where to find some of the other screw-overers – for the US is not alone in its imperial interference in Africa.
As most will know, just about all of Africa belonged to some European power for many years. Seven European countries, to be precise. After decades, and even centuries of abuse by these colonizers, African independence movements began, eventually leading to 53 independent countries (with one more added when Sudan split itself in two parts in July 2011). It wasn’t specially helpful that the departing imperialist powers put lines on maps to create countries in complete disregard of historical African affiliations and alliances. That made war between many of the new countries almost an assured result. It also didn’t help that the new nations quickly proved themselves, for the most part, to have insufficient skills to manage their new powers and their new economies.
But the real question here is: Out of Africa? Did the imperialists really ever leave? Well, only sort of. They have mostly maintained a very strong influence that is not even vaguely tied to any reason other than their own capitalist ambitions.
Why would anyone be interested in downtrodden Africa? Money. And lots of it. Africa is chock full of oil. And gas. And diamonds. And coal. And gold. And rare earths. And iron ore. And, in this electronic age, the greatest prize of all – coltan.
So the seven main colonial powers – Great Britain, France, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Italy, and Belgium – still exercise enormous influence over African nations who remain very dependent on the political and economic wills of their former masters.
It continues to have great sway over its 17 former African colonies, largely through the British Commonwealth. Many British corporations operate in these countries with sweetheart deals that have very little net benefit for the Africans.
The French have maintained a strong military presence in many of its former colonies – hence the reason it so easily moved to act in Mali over the past few weeks. Like the British, it has vast economic interests – largely mining and fresh water – and with little net benefit for the Africans. Once again, there are 17 countries under the sway of France and, according to the United Nations, the human development record of these 17 former French colonies are among the lowest in the world.
There continue to be five Spanish ‘places of sovereignty’ in Morocco. Its former colonies in Africa have fared better than most since independence. But, once again, Spanish investment in Africa has done little to lift up the African people.
The former German colonies appear to have done the best in Africa since attaining independence (if you put aside any memory of that whole Rwanda thing). And German business continues to have a long reach into those countries, albeit with a slightly more egalitarian tinge than the other Euro-Imperialists.
The former Portuguese colonies were the last to obtain their independence. And, to its credit, Portugal has worked hard to help those countries develop themselves with fair trade practices. Now that the Portuguese economy is in the crapper, however, they are knocking on the doors of their old buddies looking for ways to save their bacon back home.
I guess the biggest news items about the former Italian holdings in Africa have been the cycle of drought in Ethiopia, and the civil war in Libya. Italy benefitted enormously from cheap Libyan oil but, now that the Colonel is gone, Rome is finding it hard to cough up sufficient cash for the new guys in charge.
The colony that started life under King Leopold has been an unmitigated disaster ever since. The first democratically elected Prime Minister of Congo (Patrice Lumumba) met his end with the help of the CIA – solely because he wouldn’t swear he was anti-Soviet. Several decades of US-sanctioned dictatorship followed, only to eventually be supplanted by the ‘election’ of some of the most pathetically inept individuals ever to hold public office. Anywhere. Congo is generally considered to be just about the richest piece of real estate to be found in the world – and it is up for grabs. Canada and the US have been getting their share of it, and so have various European countries. But the Congolese are getting nothing.
So I agree with BVA that US-NATO action in Africa is deplorable. I agree with him that French action is deplorable. And I agree with him that Mali is just the beginning of a new surge of imperialism.
Paul Richard Harris, Editor
Axis of Logic
Imperialism plans “decades of war” in Africa
The French intervention in Mali, followed by the bloody siege in Algeria, represents a turning point in what has emerged as a new imperialist scramble for Africa. With these events, following on the heels of the US-NATO war for regime-change in Libya and the Washington-backed sectarian civil war in Syria, mankind is witnessing a convulsive drive by the major powers to re-divide the world, its territories, markets and resources.
There is every reason to believe that this campaign to re-colonize much of the planet will be even bloodier and more oppressive than the original colonization of Africa.
As in the Libyan war, France has taken the lead in unleashing fighter bombers and deploying its dogs of war, the French Foreign Legion, in Mali. However, the other major imperialist powers have made it clear that they will not remain on the sidelines.
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron vowed that the UK will “work with others to close down the ungoverned space” in northwest Africa “with all the means that we have.” Terming the developments in Mali and neighboring countries a “global threat,” Cameron declared they would “require a response that is about years, even decades, rather than months.”
The Obama administration initially adopted a cautious approach to the Mali events, no doubt out of concern that it could end up helping an imperialist competitor and undercut its own predatory aims in Africa. However, with the Algerian hostage crisis, which claimed the lives of at least 80 people, including three Americans, Washington has made it clear it intends to intervene aggressively.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta commented last Friday: “We have a responsibility to go after Al Qaeda wherever they are. And we’ve gone after them in the FATA (Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas). We’re going after them in Yemen and Somalia. And we have a responsibility to make sure that Al Qaeda does not establish a base for operations in North Africa and Mali.”
The message was unmistakable. Mali and the region are to be turned into a new front in the global US killing spree, to be carried out in the first instance with Predator drones and Hellfire missiles.
The US has also announced that it is sending US Special Forces troops as “trainers” and “advisors” to the six countries—Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Togo and Ghana—which are to provide the troops for an African force being cobbled together by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as a proxy for imperialist intervention. It will also provide aircraft to deliver them to Mali.
So much for Obama’s inauguration rhetoric. “A decade of war is now ending,” he declared Monday, just a day after Cameron’s warning that decades of war in Africa have only just begun.
We have entered a period when each new war only begets the next: Libya, Syria and now Mali in the space of less than two years.
The connection between them is rarely recognized in the media, which breathlessly reports each new crisis, from the fighting in Mali to the hostage drama at the gas complex in Algeria, as if it were a senseless outrage explicable only as part of the unfolding battle between good and evil known as the global war on terrorism.
The word “blowback” is not to be uttered in the polite company of network news. Yet this is precisely what is involved. The US-NATO war for regime-change in Libya destabilized the entire region. It had the effect of sending Tuaregs, many of whom who had served in Gaddafi’s security forces, fleeing back into Mali under conditions in which Libya’s NATO-backed “revolutionaries” were hunting down and murdering people with black skins.
The Tuaregs, a nomadic people of the Sahel, the region on the edge of the Sahara desert, are to be found in northern Mali as well as Niger, Algeria, Morocco, Libya and Burkina Faso.
In Mali, oppression and neglect by the central government led to four major revolts since independence in 1960. Similar revolts took place in neighboring Niger. The arrival of Tuaregs from Libya, together with large quantities of Libyan weapons, triggered the latest revolt, which was swelled by the wholesale defection of Tuareg troops and officers from the Mali army.
The secular Tuareg nationalists, however, were quickly supplanted by better armed and funded Islamist forces. Immensely strengthened by the US-NATO war in Libya, where they were armed and backed by Washington as proxy ground forces against Gaddafi, they are now being similarly armed and funded as shock troops in the war for regime-change in Syria. It has become impossible to understand US policy in the Middle East and Africa without recognizing that Washington operates in a de facto alliance with Al Qaeda-linked forces.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the new “war on terror” bogey man, is, like its predecessor in Afghanistan, a Frankenstein monster of Western imperialism. It emerged from forces that had traveled to Afghanistan with US support to fight the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul in the 1980s, and then returned home to fight the bloody Algerian civil war of the 1990s, when US and French imperialism backed the Algerian military in seizing power to prevent the election of the Islamic Salvation Front. In the repression that followed, over 100,000 Algerians were killed.
The Algerian government has charged that AQIM, like the US-backed “rebels” in Syria, is funded by Washington’s key ally, the Gulf sheikdom of Qatar. And before the present conflict, it was well known that AQIM and similar groups enjoyed the tacit approval of Mali’s US and French-backed central government, which saw the Islamists as a useful counterweight to the Tuaregs.
Now we are asked to believe that this same force has become a “global” threat that may at any moment attack “the homeland.”
The escalating war in Africa is neither about terror nor Al Qaeda. Time magazine succinctly outlined the real motives in Mali: “The dangers expand elsewhere, with huge oil reserves attracting Western companies to set up production across the vast Sahel. South of Algeria and Mali sits Niger, a dirt-poor desert country with the world’s fourth largest output of uranium, which supplies France’s crucial network of nuclear-power stations. East of Algeria is Libya, where a number of Western companies exploit some of Africa’s biggest oil reserves.”
US imperialism and the European powers that formerly colonized Africa are determined to lay hold of these resources. Having been supplanted by China as Africa’s single largest trading partner, and badly trailing Beijing in terms of growth in foreign direct investment, Washington and the European powers are turning to military intervention as a means of offsetting economic decline.
As with the inter-imperialist rivalries generated by the scramble for Africa over a century ago, the present conflicts over domination of the continent point toward the eruption of a new world war.