After Gaddafi: the West’s reconquest of Africa

 

Exactly six years ago, on October 20th 2011, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was murdered, joining a long list of African revolutionaries martyred by the West for daring to dream of continental independence. Earlier that day, Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte had been occupied by Western-backed militias, following a month-long battle during which NATO and their ‘rebel’ allies pounded the city’s hospitals and residents with artillery, cut off its water and electricity, and publicly proclaimed their desire to ‘starve [the city] into submission’. The last defenders of the city, including Gaddafi, fled Sirte that morning, but their convoy was tracked and strafed by NATO jets, killing 95 people. Gaddafi escaped the wreckage but was captured shortly afterwards. I will spare you the gruesome details, which the Western media gloatingly broadcast across the world as a triumphant snuff movie, suffice to say that he was tortured and eventually shot dead. We now know, if testimony from NATO’s key Libyan ally Mahmoud Jibril is to be believed, that it was a foreign agent, likely French, who delivered the fatal bullet. His death was the culmination of not only seven months of NATO aggression, but of a campaign against Gaddafi and his movement that the West had been waging for over three decades.

Yet it was also the opening salvo in a new war – a war for the militarily recolonisation of Africa.

The year 2009, two years before Gaddafi’s murder, was a pivotal one for US-African relations. First, because China surpassed the US as the continent’s largest trading partner; and second, because Gaddafi was elected President of the African Union. The significance of both for the decline of US influence on the continent could not be clearer. Whilst Gaddafi was spearheading attempts to unite Africa politically, committing serious amounts of Libyan oil wealth to make this dream a reality, China was quietly smashing the West’s monopoly over export markets and investment finance. Africa no longer had to go cap-in-hand to the IMF for loans, agreeing to whatever self-defeating terms were on offer, but could turn to China – or indeed Libya – for investment. And if the US threatened to cut them off from their markets, China would happily buy up whatever was on offer. Western economic domination of Africa was under threat as never before.

The response from the West, of course, was a military one. Economic dependence on the West – rapidly being shattered by Libya and China –  would be replaced by a new military dependence. If African countries would no longer come begging for Western loans, export markets and investment finance, they would have to be put in a position where they would come begging for Western military aid.

To this end, AFRICOM – the US army’s new ‘African command’ – had been launched the previous year, but humiliatingly for George W Bush, not a single African country would agree to host its HQ; instead, it was forced to open shop in Stuttgart, Germany. Gaddafi had led African opposition to AFRICOM, as exasperated US diplomatic memos later revealed by wikileaks made clear. And US pleas to African leaders to embrace AFRICOM in the ‘fight against terrorism’ fell on deaf ears. After all, as Muattisim Gaddafi, head of Libyan security, had explained to Hillary Clinton in 2009, North Africa already had an effective security system in place, through the African Union’s ‘standby forces’, on the one hand, and CEN-SAD on the other. CEN-SAD was a regional security organisation of Sahel and Saharan states, with a well-functioning security system, with Libya as the lynchpin. The sophisticated Libyan-led counter-terror structure meant there was simply no need for a US military presence. The job of Western planners, then, was to create such a need.

NATO’s destruction of Libya simultaneously achieved three strategic goals for the West’s plans for military expansion in Africa. Most obviously, it removed the biggest obstacle and opponent of such expansion, Gaddafi himself. With Gaddafi gone, and with a quiescent pro-NATO puppet government in charge of Libya, there was no longer any chance that Libya would any longer act as a powerful force against Western militarism: quite the contrary – Libya’s new government was utterly dependent on such militarism, and knew it. Secondly, NATO’s aggression served to bring about a total collapse of the delicate but effective North African security system, which had been underpinned by Libya. And finally, NATO’s annihilation of the Libyan state effectively turned the country over to the region’s death squads and terror groups. These groups were then able to loot Libya’s military arsenals and set up training camps at their leisure, using these to expand operations right across the region. It is no coincidence that almost all of the recent terror attacks in North Africa – not to mention Manchester – have been either prepared in Libya or perpetrated by fighters trained in Libya. Boko Haram, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, ISIS, Mali’s Ansar Dine, and literally dozens of others, have all greatly benefitted from the destruction of Libya. By ensuring the spread of terror groups across the region, the Western powers had magically created a demand for their military assistance which hitherto did not exist. They had literally created a protection racket for Africa. In an excellent piece of research published last year, Nick Turse notes how the increase in AFRICOM operations across the continent has correlated precisely with the rise in terror threats: it’s growth, he notes, has been accompanied by “increasing numbers of lethal terror attacks across the continent including those in Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon,Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Niger,Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Tunisia. In fact, data from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Marylandshows that attacks have spiked over the last decade, roughly coinciding with AFRICOM’s establishment. In 2007, just before it became an independent command, there were fewer than 400 such incidents annually in sub-Saharan Africa. Last year, the number reached nearly 2,000.” By AFRICOM’s own official standards, of course, this is a demonstration of massive failure. Viewed from the perspective of the protection racket, however, it is a resounding success, with US military power smoothly reproducing the conditions for its own expansion.

This is the Africa policy Trump has now inherited. But because this policy has rarely been understood as the protection racket it really is, many commentators have, as with so many of Trump’s policies, mistakenly believed he is somehow ‘ignoring’ or ‘reversing’ the approach of his predecessors. In fact, far from abandoning this approach, Trump is escalating it with relish.

What the Trump administration is doing, as it is doing in pretty much every policy area, is stripping the previous policy of its ‘soft power’ niceties to reveal and extend the iron fist which has in fact been in the driving seat all along. Trump, with his open disdain for Africa, has effectively ended US development aid for Africa – slashing overall African aid levels by one third, and transferring responsibility for much of the rest from the Agency for International Development to the Pentagon – whilst openly tying aid to the advancement of “US national security objectives”. In other words, the US has made a strategic decision to drop the carrot in favour of the stick. Given the overwhelming superiority of Chinese development assistance, this is unsurprising. The US has decided to stop trying to compete in this area, and instead to ruthlessly and unambiguously pursue the military approach which the Bush and Obama administrations had already mapped out.

To this end, Trump has stepped up drone attacks, removing the (limited) restrictions that had been in place during the Obama era. The result has been a ramping up of civilian casualties, and consequently of the resentment and hatred which fuels militant recruitment. It is unlikely to be a coincidence, for example, that the Al Shabaab truck bombing that killed over 300 people in Mogadishu last weekend was carried out by men from a town in which had suffered a major drone attack on civilians, including women and children, in August. Indeed, a detailed study by the United Nations recently concluded that in “a majority of cases, state action appears to be the primary factor finally pushing individuals into violent extremism in Africa”. Of more than 500 former members of militant organisations interviewed for the report, 71% pointed to “government action”, including “killing of a family member or friend” or “arrest of a family member or friend” as the incident that prompted them to join a group. And so the cycle continues: drone attacks breed recruitment, which breeds further terror attacks, which leaves the states involved more dependent on US military support. Thus does the West create the demand for its own ‘products’.

It does so in another way as well. Alexander Cockburn, in his book ‘Kill Chain’, explains how the policy of ‘targeted killings’ – another Obama policy ramped up under Trump – also increases the militancy of insurgent groups. Cockburn, reporting on a discussion with US soldiers about the efficacy of targeted killings, wrote that: “When the topic of conversation came round to ways of defeating the [roadside] bombs, everyone was in agreement. ‘They would have charts up on the wall showing the insurgent cells they were facing, often with the names and pictures of the guys running them,’ Rivolo remembers. ‘When we asked about going after the high-value individuals and what effect it was having, they’d say, ‘Oh yeah, we killed that guy last month, and we’re getting more IEDs than ever.’ They all said the same thing, point blank: ‘[O]nce you knock them off, a day later you have a new guy who’s smarter, younger, more aggressive and is out for revenge.”’

Alex de Waal has noted how this is certainly true in Somalia, where, he notes,“each dead leader is followed by a more radical deputy. After a failed attempt in January 2007, the United States killed al Shabaab’s commander, Aden Hashi Farah Ayro, in a May 2008 air strike. Ayro’s successor, Ahmed Abdi Godane (alias Mukhtar Abu Zubair), was worse, affiliating the organization with al Qaeda. The United States succeeded in assassinating Godane in September 2014. In turn, Godane was succeeded by an even more determined extremist, Ahmad Omar (Abu Ubaidah).” It was presumably Omar who ordered the recent attack in Mogadishu, the worst in the country’s recent history. “If targeted killing remains a central strategy of the War on Terror”, De Waal wrote, “it is set to be an endless war.”

But endless war is the whole point. For not only does it force African countries, finally freeing themselves from dependence on the IMF, into dependence on AFRICOM; it also undermines China’s blossoming relationship with Africa.

Chinese trade and investment in Africa continues to grow apace. According to the China-Africa Research Initiative at John Hopkins University, Chinese FDI stocks in Africa have risen from just 2% of the value of US stocks in 2003 to 55% in 2015, when they totalled US$35 billion. This proportion is likely to rapidly increase, given that “Between 2009 and 2012, China’s direct investment in Africa grew at an annual rate of 20.5%, while levels of US FDI flows to Africa declined by US$8 billion in the wake of the global financial crisis”. Chinese-African trade, meanwhile, topped $100billion in 2015.

China’s signature ‘One Belt One Road’ policy – to which President Xi Jinping has pledged $124billion  to create global trade routes designed to facilitate $2trillion worth of annual trade – will also help to improve African links with China. Trump’s policy towards the project was summarised by Steve Bannon, his ideological mentor and former chief strategist, in just eight words: “Let’s go screw up One Belt One Road”. The West’s deeply destabilising Africa policy – of simultaneously creating the conditions for armed groups to thrive whilst offering protection against them – goes some way towards realising this ambitious goal. Removing Gaddafi was just the first step.

This article was originally published on RT.com

A public meeting “Remembering Gaddafi, supporting the Libyan resistance” will be held in London in Housman’s bookshop, King’s Cross, on Saturday October 21st at 6.30pm. All welcome.

 

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Just like the war on drugs, the war on people smuggling is designed to fail

 

This piece was first published in May 2016

refugee boat

Operation Sophia has contributed to a 42% increase in fatal drownings by encouraging people smugglers to shift to flimsy rubber dinghies. 

The British-led “war on people smuggling”, escalated last week by David Cameron, appears to be modelled on the failed “war on drugs” – and a new House of Lords report shows it is already producing the same disastrous results.

On 19th April 2015, the sinking of a single refugee boat off the coast of Lampedusa led to the drowning of over 700 people. By the end of the month, an estimated 1300 had drowned in the same way, making it the deadliest month on record in the Mediterranean refugee crisis. The tragedy was the direct result of a successful British-led campaign to end the Italian search-and-rescue operation Mare Nostrum, which had prevented such mass drownings before its closure in October 2014. Those events led to a public outcry and pressure to restart search-and-rescue operations; but resisting such pressure, on 23rd April 2015 the European Council instead adopted a British-drafted resolution vowing to “undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy [refugee] vessels”. The EU was giving notice that its response to the refugee crisis would no longer be based on humanitarian commitments, but on military force. It was, not coincidentally, a proposal originally made by the British fascist Nick Griffin five years earlier.

I wrote at the time that such a policy suffered all the basic economic flaws of the disastrous three-decades long ‘war on drugs’, and would lead to the same devastating results. Focusing on bombing supply without addressing demand, as any economics student could tell you, will push up prices, whilst concentrating the trade in the hands of the most ruthless and militarized providers. As a consequence, it would make the trade deadlier and more profitable but would not reduce it, as demand would remain unaffected. This has been precisely the outcome of the war on drugs, as the murder toll in Mexico’s Jalisco province – 100,000 in the eight years – grimly demonstrates. And, as a House of Lords report earlier this month shows, the same results are starting to emerge from the EU’s war on migration.

The EU’s ‘Operation Sophia’ entered into its second phase – the capture and destruction of refugee boats – last October. Since then, according to European border agency Frontex, it has destroyed 114 vessels and arrested 69 ‘suspected smugglers’. This is supposed to act as a deterrent to ‘people smugglers’, thereby limiting the opportunities for would-be refugees to flee to Europe. It has not worked. As noted by the House of Lords EU Committee’s report, “The mission does not… in any meaningful way deter the flow of migrants, disrupt the smugglers’ networks, or impede the business of people smuggling on the central Mediterranean routeThere is therefore little prospect of Operation Sophia overturning the business model of people smuggling”. Indeed, numbers crossing the Mediterranean this March – almost 10,000 – were three times higher than March 2015.

That the EU’s military campaign would not deter refugee flows was entirely obvious to the witnesses interviewed by the House of Lords Committee, given that the policy does nothing to address the demand for ‘people smuggling’ services. The opening sentence of the report was a quote from Peter Roberts of the Royal United Services Institute that “migrants in boats are symptoms, not causes, of the problem.” Another witness, Steve Symonds of Amnesty International’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme, agreed: “If you do not have an answer to the situation of those people, we are sceptical about the mere targeting of the smugglers”, adding that the conflicts from which refugees were fleeing were “becoming more protracted and intractable and they are spreading”. Summing up, the Committee wrote: We conclude that a military response can never, in itself, solve the problem of irregular migration. As long as there is need for asylum from refugees and demand from economic migrants, the business of people smuggling will continue to exist and the networks will adapt to changing circumstances.

 

Whilst unable to reduce the numbers crossing the sea, however, Operation Sophia has had an effect on those crossings: it has made them more dangerous. As the Lords report noted, the destruction of vessels has simply caused the smugglers to shift from using wooden boats to rubber dinghies, which are even more unsafe. In addition, Cameron’s plans to return fleeing refugees to war-torn Libya is likely to escalate the death toll even further. On this proposal, made earlier this year, migration expert Professor Brad Blitz commented: “It’s just outrageous. Libya is a country that is divided, which cannot guarantee human rights, which has produced hundreds of thousands of displaced peopleIf the concern is to prevent deaths, as [Cameron] has said, then really he should be promoting safe passage, rather than diverting people so that they have to seek longer and more dangerous routes.”

The Committee also heard evidence that the EU’s militarized approach is changing the business model of refugee transport in other ways. According to Edward Hobart, Migration Envoy for the British Foreign Office, although there was “plenty of activity that [was] in the grey market or illegal or irresponsible”, at the moment there were no “large-scale organised crime groups.” This, however, was likely to change. Said the report: “Mr Hobart did see a likelihood of an ‘increase in criminal activity.’ He explained that a symptom of better control … at the border, will be an increased opportunity for organised crime.’ As EU borders become more challenging to navigate, migrants will be more likely to turn to smugglers to facilitate their illegal crossings”. Criminal gangs, that is, are likely to be boosted, not deterred, by Operation Sophia. And in an ominous hint of what is to come, Lieutenant General Wosolsobe referred to one incident in which armed men had prevented the destruction of a boat. As the non-violent providers are put out of business, this is likely to become increasingly common. Just as the war on drugs has concentrated the trade in the hands of the most violent paramilitary groups, so too the war on refugees will put nonviolent groups out of business whilst ensuring that only the best armed will thrive.

And these groups will find themselves amassing ever greater profits: noted the report, “Mr Symonds was sceptical of the EU’s efforts to barricade its external border. Analysis had shown that stronger policing of the EU’s external borders had effected only ‘the movement of ever larger numbers of people around different routes by different journeys, usually at greater danger and cost to them, so of greater profit to smugglers.’”

In Latin America, this combination of concentrating the trade in the hands of violent gangs and increasing their profits has given drug smuggling groups the financial and military muscle to buy police protection for their activities. In Mexico, for example, where the drug war has been massively stepped up since 2007, “Drug Trafficking Organisations have operated….with near total impunity in the face of compromised security forces” whilst “official corruption is widespread”. The quotes are from official US Embassy cables from 2010.

 

Again, the EU’s military approach is likely to have the same effects on the refugee transport business in Libya, entrenching corruption and providing the most violent paramilitary groups with the financial means to buy themselves police protection. The report noted that “smugglers are part of the fabric of Libyan political and economic life. Mr Patrick Kingsley, Migration Correspondent, Guardian Media Group, explained that smugglers are often ‘connected to militias’, ‘have important roles to play in their local communities’, and ‘provide quite a lot of money to the local community’. The ‘people at the top are going to be protected to some extent, even by people who are major players in Libyan politics.

In sum, then, the House of Lords is clear on the results of ‘Operation Sophia’: it has failed to deter migration, increased the risk of death for refugees, and is militarizing the trade whilst boosting its profits. The likely result will be a growth in the political and economic power of the most violent paramilitaries currently involved in the trade.

So why did David Cameron last week announce an escalation in this disastrous militarization strategy? Speaking at the G7 conference in Japan, he promised to send another warship to join Operation Sophia, this time hoping to extend its mission into Libyan territorial waters.

Does he not have access to the House of Lords’ report? Is he completely ignorant of the devastating consequences of the war on drugs? Does he lack even a schoolboy level understanding of the basic economic laws of supply and demand? The English ruling class, from India to Iraq, have always presented themselves as essentially well-meaning buffoons when it comes to foreign policy; “absent-minded imperialists” who, with the best will in the world, end up bumbling into the destruction of entire regions due to their misguided commitment to the civilizing mission or to ‘faulty intelligence’. Personally, I don’t buy it.

More likely is that Cameron is pursuing this seemingly counter-productive strategy for two reasons: to justify the re-occupation of Libya, and to facilitate the boosting of his chosen death squads of the so-called ‘Libya Dawn’. Indeed, the Times noted last Thursday that British special forces are already fighting alongside Libya Dawn, the paramilitary force at war with the elected government based in Tobruk. MI6 and the CIA learnt in the 1980s that facilitating the mujahadeen’s takeover of the region’s heroin trade was a great way to allow their allies to fund themselves outside of Congressional approval. It looks like Cameron is planning to repeat the trick for the Libyan death squads’ people smuggling business.

This piece was originally published by RT

Theresa May’s personal role in facilitating terror attacks

As Home Secretary, Theresa May ensured that counter-terror police were overruled to allow the Manchester bomber and his father – a known member of Al Qaeda’s Libyan affiliate, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group – to train and fight in Libya. The same policy allowed literally hundreds of ‘subjects of interest’ to shuttle back and forth between Britain and the training camps and battlefields of Libya and Syria as part of Britain’s campaign to destroy those states. As far as she and her government are concerned, the murdered victims of the Manchester and London Bridge attacks are merely collateral damage. Apparently this story is of no interest whatsoever to any serious media outlet.