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Volume 3,  Number 27              August 10 - 16, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines

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Remilitarizing Africa for Corporate Profit

By John E. Peck
Foreign Policy

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This Spring, in a move that’s probably susceptible to World Trade Organization (WTO) challenge as an illegal trade barrier—since it enables consumers to distinguish between goods based upon production/process methods—De Beers promised to certify that all of its consignments “do not include any diamonds which come from any area in Africa controlled by forces rebelling against the legitimate and internationally recognized government of the relevant country.” Blissfully ignored by the New York Times (3/1/2000) and conveniently accommodated by De Beers’s new “rebel-free” label is the role diamonds play in sanctioned corporate militarism across Africa. With 70 percent of the global diamond market under its control and record sales of $5.24 billion last year, De Beers has been widely criticized for bankrolling instability across Africa. Prior to UN sanctions, Angola’s UNITA rebels earned an estimated $4 billion between 1992 and 1998 thanks to diamond smuggling involving De Beers. For years De Beers also enjoyed exclusive rights to Zaire’s diamond fields, and this lucrative partnership enabled Mobutu to steal billions from government accounts, acquire weapons and training for his troops, while securing multilateral refinancing of Zaire’s foreign debt no less than 16 times.

In early May the U.S. Congress also railroaded through the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA)—aka NAFTA for Africa—as part of a pork barrel package including elements of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI). Passage was so quick that representatives didn’t even have a final draft before floor debate began. Chiquita CEO, Carl Lindner, can take the lion’s share of credit for this corporate free trade legislation, having greased both Republican and Democratic palms to the tune of $850,000 in 1998 alone. When Clinton first unveiled his Trade Not Aid plan during his African safari two years ago, it was met with scorn and anger by many Africans, who rightly interpreted it as just another round of neocolonialism. Whereas NAFTA for Africa at least endured some public debate, its military corollary—the African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI)—remains largely immune to democratic accountability. Under ACRI, the Pentagon will receive an additional $15-20 million per year to ensure “commercial diplomacy” remains solvent in the coming millennium, even in a volatile setting like Africa. On his free trade trek, Clinton also boasted about U.S. corporate profits in Africa topping 35 percent, and David H. Miller, executive director of the Corporate Council on Africa, heartily concurred in the World Policy Journal (Summer 1999) “It’s true—it’s high risk, but with high return.”

Following the botched Mogadishu expedition that cost the U.S. $3 billion and 26 dead by 1994 (plus untold Somali casualties and other “collateral damage”), Clinton issued presidential decision directive (PDD) #25, limiting future Pentagon operations in Africa to only those missions directly serving U.S. interests or stemming conflict that threatened global security. According to Vincent D. Kern II, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African Affairs, in testimony before Congress in 1997, the rationale behind ACRI is to assist U.S. African allies in developing a joint “military capability that would be able to rapidly assemble and deploy in order to prevent another descent into anarchy and the needless loss of life.” When Susan Rice left her “peacekeeping” assignment with the National Security Council (NSC) to become Clinton’s new Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, it was hard to miss the symbolism behind her parting souvenir of a Zulu spear and shield. ACRI is supposedly a scaled-down version of an earlier African Crisis Response Force (ACRF), hatched through discussions between the NSC, the Pentagon, the State Department, and the CIA. Despite the name change, its objective remains the same— namely, creation of a force of 5,000 to 10,000 African “peacekeepers,” trained in joint exercises on a 60-day rotating basis by the 3rd and 5th U.S. Special Forces groups, with additional support from the 18th Airborne Corps and Psychological Operations, as well as civil affairs officers of the Army Special Operations Command. As might be expected from a superpower, no Africans were consulted prior to ACRI’s unveiling, and it continues to be peddled by the U.S. on a “take it or leave it” basis.

Total U.S. foreign spending in sub-Saharan Africa under Clinton/Gore has dwindled to a paltry $700 million in 1999—less than $3 per U.S. citizen per year—and a drastic decline from the Reagan/Bush high of $1.8 billion in 1985. During the Cold War (1959-1989), the Pentagon spent in excess of $1.5 billion on direct arms transfers and covert military activities in sub-Saharan Africa alone, supporting brutal dictatorships in Sudan, Uganda, Chad, Zaire, Somalia, and Liberia, as well as pro-apartheid rebels in Angola and Mozambique. Yet, since the demise of the “Communist threat,” the U.S. has continued this sordid trend of bankrolling belligerence in Africa earmarking $227 million for arms sales and training programs between 1991 and 1998, according to a recent World Policy Institute report, “Deadly Legacy.” Between 1991 and 1995, over 3,400 African soldiers received U.S. training, 70 percent of which hailed from dictatorships and other countries in turmoil. Under International Military Education Training (IMET), the U.S. spent $5.8 million training 400 African officers in 1998 alone. Thanks to the Pentagon’s newer Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) program, 34 out of the 53 countries on the continent now boast U.S. military “graduates,” including 8 of the 9 nations behind both sides of the civil war still raging across Congo. Large quantities of small arms are also being dumped in Africa under Section 516 of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act as Excess Defense Articles (EDA) transfers. Yet, when it came to paying for UN and Organization of African Unity (OAU) peacekeeping operations in Congo to implement the Lusaka Peace Accord, the White House had only $2 million to spare. Billionaire mining magnate and Corporate Council on Africa chairman, Maurice Templesman, managed to lure the warring sides together on his own with a posh dinner at the New York City Metropolitan Club.

In Africa such militaries (and insurgents) are financed and equipped through hard currency sales of officially extracted (and illegally poached) natural resources like gold, diamonds, and ivory. Horror stories of UNITA and RENAMO rebels machine-gunning elephants in order to pay off their bills to apartheid advisors still circulate across the continent. As detailed in Covert Action Quarterly (Spring/Summer 2000), a veritable carpetbag entourage of corporate mining executives followed Laurent Kabila’s Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo (ADFL) as it advanced on Kinshasa in the spring of 1997. America Mineral Fields, based in President Clinton’s home town of Hope, Arkansas, was first at Kabila’s trough with a supposed $1 billion contract. Close behind was Bechtel, which issued its own “master plan” for Congo’s post-Mobutu development, including an export-driven free market economy and a special place for international financial institutions and their clients—foreign corporate investors. Much to the chagrin of the U.S., however, Kabila proved less pliant than expected and by 1998 had switched his allegiance elsewhere, attracting corporate suitors and their mercenary partners from South Africa and Zimbabwe. This was clearly not the version of “African solutions to African problems” that the White House had in mind.

Unlike IMET which has faced widespread criticism for its training of Indonesian troops responsible for the genocide in East Timor, JCET falls under a little known 1991 law—Section 2011 of Title 10—enabling it to sidestep Congressional oversight and periodic review by the State Department’s Human Rights Office, thus making it the Pentagon’s preferred ACRI conduit. One infamous JCET trainee is Rwandan strongman, Major General Paul Kagame, who allegedly handpicked Kabila to overthrow Mobutu. Back in 1990 he was enrolled in the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas when duty called and he had to return home to take charge of his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Kagame’s sidekick, Lt. Col. Frank Rusagara, also got his JCET degree at the U.S. Naval School in Monterey, California. On the eve of the bloodbath that left half a million dead in the Great Lakes region of central Africa, Kagame put his U.S. expertise to work, ordering the assassination of his rivals, Rwandan president, Juvenal Habyarimana, and Burundi’s president, Cyprien Ntaryamira, just as they were about to conclude multi-ethnic peace negotiations. Iraqi missiles, most likely captured by U.S forces during the Gulf War and then supplied to Kagame by a covert Pentagon contractor, were used to shoot down their plane in 1994. Testimony to this effect in August 1997 before the UN chief war crimes prosecutor, Louise Arbour, was suppressed and only leaked to the media this year—see Steven Edward’s expose in Canada’s National Post (3/1/2000). Yet, to read Clinton apologists like David Shearer in the journal of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Survival (Summer 1999), one might think the U.S. was an innocent bystander, rather than a covert instigator of Africa’s strife.

Also kept under wraps is the fact that for the past five years, U.S. Green Berets have been arming and coaching Rwandan soldiers, as well as their Ugandan allies to deadly effect. According to a Washington Post investigation (7/12/98), Kagame’s troops received low intensity conflict training in such areas as camouflage, small unit movement, marksmanship, patrolling, night navigation, and soldier team development, both at Ft. Bragg, SC and in Rwanda. Beyond $12 million in official government-to-government U.S. arms sales to Africa in 1998, the White House also approved $64 million in private commercial weapons transfers, including M-16s, pistols, revolvers, rifles, and 10 million rounds of ammunition. How much of this arsenal ended up in the hands of chronic human rights abusers, like Kagame, no one will ever know. Critics have pointed to the Pentagon subcontractor, Ronco—a supposed de-mining company—as the major U.S. gun runner to Rwanda from 1994 to 1996 in violation of UN sanctions. Florida-based, Airscan, has also been implicated in funneling Pentagon weapons for counter-insurgency operations of Uganda’s People’s Defense Force, as well as to rebels in southern Sudan fighting the Khartoum regime. AirScan founder, retired Brigadier General Joe Stringham, was responsible for secretive U.S. counter-insurgency activities against the FSLN during El Salvador’s civil war. From the current conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia, to the protracted hostility between Ethiopia and Eritrea, U.S. military expertise and weaponry is being deployed with grisly effect across the continent.

As already shown, ACRI poses no limits on Pentagon hiring of armed proxies to do its dirty work, and there has been a veritable boom for private security in Africa since the end of the Cold War. Corporate concessions for mercenary protections are now “business as usual” throughout much of the continent. For example, British-based Defense Systems Limited holds contracts not only for De Beers, but also Texaco, Chevron, Anglo-American and Bechtel in such unstable countries as Mali, Nigeria, and Angola. Colonial history has seen many examples of corporate mercenary collaboration. The Dutch East India Co. was one of the first to employ ex-soldiers from the German state of Wurttemberg back in 1707. Defying the advice of classical political theorists like Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, and Weber, even the U.S. is now willing to abdicate its monopoly over the exercise of lethal force in order to expand its “new world order” of corporate free trade.  Unlike the assassins and thugs of yesteryear, Guy Arnold in his 1999 book, Mercenaries, observes that today’s hired guns are being spun as wholesome cost-effective professionals, “claiming, whether spuriously or not, that they are only prepared to work for legitimate governments.” Armchair technocrats seem especially enamored with the retrofitted mercenary, as retired general and White House Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Barry McCaffrey, gleefully told the Dallas Morning News (2/17/2000): “I am unabashedly an admirer of outsourcing…there’s very few things in life you can’t outsource.”

In a 1998 issue of the African Studies Association journal, Issues, William Reno duly notes that mercenaries must be licensed by the State Department’s Office of Defense Technology Control and the Pentagon’s Defense Technology Security Administration before they get their federal contracts. This is ostensibly to screen out “rogue elements,” reckless freelancers such as the four U.S. smugglers masquerading as missionaries who got caught entering Zimbabwe with a large cache of weapons last year. According to one unidentified State Dept. official quoted in the Nation (7/28/1997), “Training a military is a lot more than teaching guys how to shoot guns straight…The companies offer instruction in how to run a military in a democracy, subordination to civilian control and respect for human rights.” Whether officially authorized and suitably sanitized or not, such subcontracting of state terror doesn’t bode well for human rights and civil liberties in a place like Africa. Once promising leaders that had been hailed by the White House as harbingers of an “African Renaissance” have since become brutal despots, an almost inevitable outcome when foreign policy places a premium on corporate free trade and military law and order, rather than sustainable development and genuine democracy.

Hypocrisy aside, the geopolitical advantages of corporate militarism are numerous: scant media coverage, limited public awareness, as well as government deniability when covert mission scenarios go awry. Few shed tears when soldiers of fortune come home in bodybags from overseas conflagrations. After all, that’s just the cost of doing that sort of work, and, besides, no one officially knew about it anyway. Under the 1949 Geneva Convention, mercenaries lack the POW rights accorded regular combatants, which is why when Angola’s MPLA captured several mercenaries back in 1976 there was little global outcry about their showcase trial and subsequent execution. Executive Outcomes (EO), a South African-based private defense firm, did suffer 20 casualties fighting UNITA rebels under its $40 million per year contract with Angola from 1993 to 1995. The emerging “revolving door” relationship between the Pentagon and approved U.S. private defense outfits, though, does offer today’s corporate mercenary more perquisites than ever before. Some even enjoy amenities as embassy guards, standing in for regular marines in parts of Africa. Such taxpayer-subsidized military expenditure also happens to be “exempt” from challenge under Article XXI of the WTO, and some predict a fresh arms race worldwide as ruthless regimes and greedy companies take advantage of this “free trade” loophole.

According to Pentagon officials, private defense firms hired via ACRI are also safe from the prying eyes of investigative journalists and concerned citizens, since their WTO “proprietary rights” supercede such meddlesome national legislation as the Freedom of Information Act.

There are even more tangible superpower kickbacks from entrepreneurial mercenary activities, as well. Once African leaders and their soldiers acquire a taste for certain weaponry, they are likely to continue their addiction and become dependent on future infusions. The Israel-based security firm, Levdan, not only propped up Congolese president, Pascal Lissouba, for three years until his regime was overthrown in 1997, but also brokered a $10 million arms deal between Jerusalem and Brazzaville. Violent “hot spots” in the south, with their expendable “soft targets,” remain an ideal proving ground for the latest arms and tactics emerging from laboratories and thinktanks in the north. CIA field testing of biochemical warfare techniques, in collaboration with the Rhodesian regime and apartheid South Africa, triggered Africa’s worst modern outbreak of human anthrax claiming nearly 100 lives in Zimbabwe in the late 1970s, and this incident is probably just the tip of the iceberg. The School of the Americas (SOA) has done much to increase death squad efficiency in Latin America, and ACRI should also modernize oppressive potential in Africa, too. While the post-Cold War peace dividend remains elusive, the Pentagon has endured some downsizing as its personnel are made redundant by high-tech weapons of mass destruction. With a 40 percent decline in Pentagon payrolls since the late 1980s, many career bound soldiers found themselves out of work with no useful civilian skills. Rather than dump such loyal grunts on the curb, they are discharged and then kindly referred to a mercenary recruiter. As one Pentagon insider told the Nation (7/28/1997), “Privatization is another way to reward the alumni.”

One such “lucky winner” of Pentagon largesse is Military Professional Resources Inc. (MPRI), which has seen action in Liberia, and snatched EO’s lucrative Angola contract. Reversing an earlier Reagan/Bush policy of covertly supporting Savimbi’s UNITA rebels, Clinton extended an olive branch to dos Santos during a White House visit in December 1995, but at a price. Not only would Angola have to adopt “free market reforms” favoring U.S. corporations like Chevron—which controls a third of Angola’s Cabinda Gulf Oil Co.—but it would also have to switch over to U.S-based mercenaries. Founded in 1987 and based in Alexandria, VA, MPRI’s personnel listing reads like a Who’s Who of retired Pentagon brass. According to MPRI spokesperson and former Defense Intelligence Agency director, Ed Soyster, interviewed in the Dallas Morning News (2/27/2000), MPRI maintains a database of 11,000 retired U.S. soldiers available for temporary assignment. MPRI is probably best known for its covert role behind the Croatian military’s ethnic cleansing of Krajina. An expose in the Johannesburg Mail and Guardian (10/10/1997) notes that even the lowest grade mercenary in Angola earns a living wage of $225/day, more than enough for frequent “holidays” in the brothels and casinos of Sun City. Perusing MPRI’s website, one finds other mercenary opportunities such as a one-year stint in Nigeria through ACRI’s “Military Transition Assistance” program, as well as state-side ACRI positions in Alexandria, VA for “Battalion/Brigade Staff Training” and “Military Skills Training”— fluency in French required.

Sierra Leone is another African country notorious for its mercenary activity. In May 1995 with Revolutionary United Front (RUF) forces 20 miles outside of Freetown, the besieged Strasser regime contracted with EO to turn the tide. By 1997 when its contract expired, EO and its loyal self-made force of Kamajor fighters had routed the RUF, and in return EO’s mining affiliate, Branch Energy, was awarded the concession over the liberated diamond fields. Quoted in Harper’s (2/1997), retired Canadian General and UN negotiator, Ian Douglas, admits “EO gave us this stability (in Sierra Leone). In a perfect world, of course, we wouldn’t need an organization like EO, but I’d be loath to say they have to go just because they are mercenaries.” Within four month’s of EO’s departure, soldiers sympathetic to the RUF had overthrown the newly elected Kabba government. By March 1998, though, Kabbah was back in power, thanks to $100 million in U.S. military aid to ECOMOG and the intervention of Nigerian troops, trained and armed by the British private defense outfit, Sandline. Besides Sandline, U.S.-based ICI is the latest dog of war in Sierra Leone, protecting politicians, immigrant traders, expatriate employees of relief agencies like World Vision, as well as the helicopters, vehicles, and communication equipment of other U.S. corporations like Pacific Architects and Engineers (PAE). One is left to wonder if Sierra Leone is condemned to a downward trajectory of cyclical violence as insurgents and mercenaries trade control over the nation’s diamond heritage. The Washington Post (4/17/2000) reports that nearly $300 million worth of diamonds were smuggled by the RUF out of Sierra Leone via Liberia in 1999.

When the Pentagon is not forthcoming with subsidized “on-site” security in Africa, corporations often take matters into their own hands. As Scott Pegg reveals in Security Dialogue (December 1999), the Shell Petroleum Development Company, Royal Dutch Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, proudly speaks of its own “Shell Police”—i.e., special detachments of the Nigerian Mobile Police Force (MPF). One memo even asserts, “it is normal practice in Nigeria among leading commercial businesses for supernumerary police...to be assigned to protect staff and facilities.” As early as 1987 Shell began using its vehicles and helicopters to ferry Nigerian troops to attack villagers protesting the environmental destruction and social misery wrought by its extractive activities, and it continues to pay the field allowances for these units. A May 12, 1994 memo from Nigerian Army Major, Paul Okuntimo, couldn’t be more explicit about this patron-client arrangement: “Shell operations still impossible unless ruthless military operations are undertaken for smooth economic activities...pressure on oil companies for prompt regular inputs as discussed.” Shell subsequently purchased over 100 handguns for its “Kill and Go” squads and was even negotiating a $500,000 purchase of “upgraded weaponry” in 1995 until the London-based Observer (2/11/1996) blew the whistle. Shell refused to intervene when the famous writer and environmentalist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, was executed along with other Ogoni activists, after being found “guilty” on trumped-up charges before a secret Nigerian military tribunal in November 1995.

    Chevron has followed Shell’s example in Nigeria, summoning the MPF as early as May 1994 to attack a peaceful boat blockade of one of its facilities, leading to the drowning of several protesters. On January 4, 1998 Chevron used its helicopters and boats to carry Nigerian troops to massacre 15 Ijaw villagers. This action was repeated on May 25 when two protesters occupying a drilling platform were killed by troops brought by Chevron. Such grassroots resistance had closed 20 drilling sites and reduced Nigerian oil production by a third and the corporations were eager to resume operations, since Nigeria is one of the cheapest suppliers in the world with crude extraction costs as low as $3 per barrel. Facing worldwide criticism and Congressional investigation for its role in human rights abuses, Chevron countered that because it was only a 40 percent minority stakeholder in its joint venture with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, it had no control over how its corporate property was utilized by the Nigerian military. The White House proved just as impotent when it came to holding the Nigerian dictatorship accountable. A U.S. trade embargo was rejected, despite Nigeria’s inordinate dependence on petroleum—80 percent of the regime’s money comes from crude, and in 1997 the U.S. was Nigeria’s second largest trading partner, buying $6.3 billion in goods, mostly gas and oil. Clinton also refused to block private arms transfers and from 1994 to 1995 over $3 million in U.S. weapons managed to reach Lagos.  Of course, Clinton’s friendship with Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese tycoon with strong Nigerian interests, has little influence over U.S. foreign policy decisions at either the State Department or the Commerce Dept. After all, one shouldn’t expect too much in return upon joining the ranks of Clinton’s top 200 campaign contributors with a $460,000 soft money gift to the Democratic Party front group “Vote Now ‘96.”

    Providing an ideological smokescreen for U.S. self-interest is the Africa Center for Security Studies (ACSS)—another brainchild of Clinton’s “trade not aid” agenda. Its espoused mission is to “support democratic governance in Africa by offering senior African civil and military leaders a rigorous academic and practical program in civil-military relations, national security strategy, and defense economics.” The ACSS held its first taxpayer-subsidized seminar in Dakar, Senegal in November 1999, attracting participants from 43 countries, including 28 generals. In many respects, ACSS appears to be payback for the Pentagon’s ongoing National Security Education Program (NSEP), through which U.S. college students, professors, and researchers receive taxpayer money to conduct reconnaissance work of national security interest in Africa and elsewhere.  For years NSEP awardees were not only expected to “debrief” their Pentagon patrons on completion of their fieldwork, but also required to perform up to two years of service for the Pentagon and/or the broader intelligence community. Given the paucity of other federal funding for language study and overseas research, some students have unwittingly accepted these scholarships, quite unaware of their Pentagon sponsorship and obligation. Between 1994 and 1997, the NSEP funded 35 graduate fellowships and 88 undergraduate fellowships in Africa, as well as three grants to fund African-related research at Clark University, Washington University/St. Louis, and UC-Davis. Under ACRI, mercenary companies are also getting taxpayer money for similar hands-on national security coursework, like MPRI’s intensive three day “Senior Leader Seminar on Civil-Military Professionalism in a Democracy” held in Abuja, Nigeria in September 1999 and attended by 68 wannabe civilian leader military officer types.

On December 11, 1998 5,000 young Nigerian activists drafted the Kaiama Declaration, stating: “We cease to recognize all undemocratic decrees that rob our people and communities of the right to ownership and control of our lives and resources, which were enacted without our participation and consent.” If such grassroots empowerment constitutes “anarchy,” then it surely is not the culprit behind Africa’s crisis. In fact, one could argue that a U.S. foreign policy based upon “commercial diplomacy” and “trade not aid”—i.e., corporate militarism—does far more harm, than good, no matter where it is applied throughout the global south. Most Africans would prefer the U.S. tackle their real security needs: signing the land mine treaty, removing the time bombs, and paying for artificial limbs; disarming and punishing human rights violators and other war criminals; canceling foreign debts accrued illegitimately by corrupt dictators and their business cronies; suspending World Bank/IMF structural adjustment programs (SAPs) and doing away with the draconian authority of the WTO; as well as supporting—both politically and financially—UN/OAU refugee, peacekeeping, and relief operations.

Closer to home, U.S. advocates for Africa are calling for repeal of both “NAFTA for Africa” and ACRI; a complete moratorium on U.S. weapon sales, training, and mercenary subcontracting; government and corporate accountability for human rights abuses; as well as reprioritizing U.S. development assistance to address basic human needs such as healthcare, education, sustainable agriculture, and environmental protection. Following the example of post-apartheid house cleaning, the U.S. should also convene its own “Truth Commission” to expose and judge Washington policymakers, hell bent to “win” the Cold War, who inflicted so much death and misery on Africa.  It’s hard to imagine a worse case of a self-declared democratic superpower shirking its historic obligation to an entire continent and its people. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) has found one sobering maxim from his review of U.S.-Africa policy, which he shared with Congress back in July 1998, “The first rule should be that the U.S. does not give any kind of military assistance whatever to governments that murder their own people.”

John E. Peck is a graduate student at UW-Madison, who has visited Africa many times in the last decade and is also a member of the Association of Concerned African Scholars.


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