Demand an end to the violence against teachers and students in Haiti

18 October 2010

We the undersigned are responding to a call for international solidarity sent out by the executive committee of a coalition of education organizations in Haiti after the police killing of a protesting teacher, and signed on Oct. 11, 2010, by the coordinators of the coalition François Mario, CNEH (teachers’ union), Eugène Jean, UPEPH (parents’ organization), and Josué Mérilien, UNNOH (teachers’ union). We stand in solidarity with teachers, students, and parents in Port-au-Prince who are organizing for schooling for Haitian children abandoned by the education system, and for decent living and working conditions for teachers and students. We demand an end to the systematic violence against them.

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The origins of AFRICOM: the Obama administration, the Sahara-Sahel and US Militarization of Africa (Part Three)

7 June 2010

It is all very well to use the pretext of the global War on Terror to secure Africa, but with the exceptions of the bombings of the two US Embassies in East Africa in 1998 that Daniel mentioned, there has been very little terrorism in Africa as a whole — certainly not in the regions where the oil is! However on the other side of the continent, what I might call the ‘oil side’, we get, beginning in 2002 and 2003, the fabrication of terrorism, centred on Algeria but then spreading across the Sahel and eventually linking in 2005 with Nigeria. The way in which this terrorism was fabricated is a very long narrative, which I don’t have time to go into here except to say that I have written two volumes on it. The first volume, The Dark Sahara: America’s war on terror in Africa, is here and you can buy it tonight. That whole long narrative was conducted by the Algerian secret military intelligence services — the DRS. It was conducted and orchestrated by the DRS, but with the knowledge and collusion of the US. In essence, they took 32 Europeans hostage and claimed it to be the work of Islamic extremists. They took the hostages through southern Algeria and then into Mali, the Sahel.

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The origins of AFRICOM: the Obama administration, the Sahara-Sahel and US Militarization of Africa (Part Two)

7 June 2010

What is responsible for the growing US military involvement began in the late 1990s? There are two major perceptions of US foreign policy makers. One was that the US was becoming increasingly dependent on resources, particularly oil, coming from the African continent. For example, today the US imports more oil from Africa than it does from the entire Middle East. The US still imports more from the Western hemisphere — Mexico, Canada, Columbia, Venezuela and Ecuador — which has a lot to do with explaining US policy these days towards Latin America and disputes with the Chavez regime. But, after that Africa is the next most important source of imported oil. Nigeria and Angola are now the US’s 5th and 6th largest suppliers of US oil imports. American policy makers began to see this happening in the late 1990s.

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The origins of AFRICOM: the Obama administration, the Sahara-Sahel and US Militarization of Africa (Part One)

7 June 2010

AFRICOM brings together three separate US military commands. Militarization of Africa is being co-ordinated by AFRICOM. It was established by President George Bush, following the war on terror and to serve other US interests. AFRICOM will also reflect on new doctrines of counterinsurgency and that means militarization as well as taking on developmental functions too. Is AFRICOM here to stay? I’m afraid it is just like EUCOM: here to stay. Will it do any good? I will leave that to our speakers. Will the Africans have their say? I hope so. The debate will be led by two speakers. The first is Daniel Volman and then Jeremy Keenan.

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All quiet on the West Africa front: terrorism, tourism and poverty in Mauritania

6 June 2010

In a recent article, Washington columnist David Ignatius (2009) smugly concludes that ‘we have an enemy that makes even more mistakes than we do’, and because of that, al-Qaida’s extremist ideology has been and will continue to be a failure. I wonder if the three Spaniards, two Italians and one Frenchman currently held hostage by those claiming to belong to al-Qaida au Maghreb Islamique (AQMI) in the Malian Sahara would agree.

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Sahelian blowback: what’s happening in Mali?

6 June 2010

Washington’s counterterrorism spectacles see only al-Qaeda. The debt burden and the impossibility of governance are not on the agenda. Whether the State Department or the Defense Department give arms to the Malian military says more about the anxiety in the U.S. than about the dynamic in Mali. Once more the U.S. will strengthen the military against civil society, and once more we might see Mali fall the way of Guinea and others in the region that were set up to become dictatorships. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton quite rightly called the mass rapes by the Guinean military ‘criminality of the greatest degree.’ If better sense does not prevail, not long from now we might read of similar atrocities at the Modibo Kéita Sports Stadium in Bamako.

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Western Sahara and the United States’ geographical imaginings

6 June 2010

Recently, US official commentary has heightened in pitch with allegations linking its imagined ‘al-Qaeda’ in the Sahara to Western Sahara’s Frente Popular de Liberación de Saguía el Hamra y Río de Oro (Frente Polisario), accompanied by the interminable drip-drip of Moroccan official propaganda to bolster its autonomy plan and, under international law, illegal claims to territorial sovereignty of Western Sahara. As an anthropologist researching the western region of the Sahara, these problematic discourses raise personal reservations and analytical questions.

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Counterterrorism and democracy promotion in the Sahel under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama from September 11, 2001, to the Nigerien Coup of February 2010

6 June 2010

This article sets US responses to recent events in Niger, Mauritania, and Mali in the context of changing conversations among policymakers concerning terrorism in the Sahel. After a discussion of how attitudes and policies toward counterterrorism in Africa shifted from 2001 to 2009, a second section discusses recent political events in Mauritania and Niger before examining kidnappings and other terrorist incidents in Mauritania and the Mali-Niger borderlands. I ask why US policymakers reacted differently to events in 2009 and early 2010 than they might have had the same events occurred in the 2001-2005 period. President Obama and other administration representatives state that Africa is a top US priority and stress the importance of effective governance on the continent. Yet the evolution of counterterrorist rhetoric and policy signals that the United States is retreating from an agenda that seeks to transform political systems, and is instead advancing a program of long-term military involvement in areas, such as the Sahel, where perceived US security interests are at stake.

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War on ‘terror’: Africom, the kleptocratic state and under-class militancy in West Africa-Nigeria

6 June 2010

The US, EU and Chinese compete to control strategic resources (oil, bauxite, uranium, subterranean water) in the Sahara, Sahel and proximate semi-arid zones as northern Nigeria, home of the young suicide bomber who failed to bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 252 over Detroit in December 2009. US-NATO commands in Stuttgart and Brussels prosecute the ‘War on Terror’ to securitize ‘dangerous’ West African Muslim states (and quietly manoeuvre leases to exploit resources vital to US and EU capital accumulation). The principal cause of growing youth militancy mobilising around ethnicity and Islamic reformism is the ruling class’s failure to ‘share’ the ‘dividends of democracy’ — e.g. rental incomes from ‘traditional’ community owned strategic resources as oil, gas, gold, bauxite, uranium, water — according to subaltern clients’ expectations. So the under-class experiences as ‘bad’ the ‘democratic’ West African State’s governance. Failed expectations are reflected in some radical elements’ readiness to sacrifice their lives in fighting the war machine — sheer force — of the repressive State. ‘Bad’ governance is the consequence not of corruption but of clientelism, that is informal political relations greased by money between patrons/‘big men’ and clients/‘small boys’; this largely illegal system of power and patronage generates venality and violence, but not as yet real terrorism (Obi 2006). Ironically, Islamic militants (northern Nigeria) and ethnic sovereignty movements (southern Nigeria, northern Niger, northern Mali) drawing on subaltern discontent share with international donors the same objective of securing ‘good’ (i.e. just, efficient, clean) governance, though under-class devout Muslim youth define good governance not in donors’ secular terms but in regard to Quranic precepts. The US military command for Africa (AFRICOM) and international aid practitioners target corruption as the cause of ‘dangerous’ under-development; they strengthen security agencies and hand out anti-corruption funds that the ruling classes mis-appropriate. The militarization of ‘development’ will succeed only, as elsewhere (e.g., Afghanistan), in nourishing the growth of real terrorism among, for example, Nigeria’s estimated 40-60 million largely unemployed youth and ethnic minorities. A more peaceful strategy than US reliance on resource control by force is ECOWAS community capacity building. Subaltern classes could be empowered to strengthen management of traditional resources and land in strategic locations developed as hubs of sustainable economic growth and justice reform at the magistrate, native court, and Shari‘a court levels. Improvements in the local economy, governance and justice delivery as part of planned institution building for socially inclusive growth with equity could diminish subaltern discontent and encourage currently disempowered majorities to challenge peacefully the kleptocratic State’s reliance on force to ‘resolve’ political conflicts with and among citizens.

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Introduction: Securitizing the Sahara

6 June 2010

Since 2002, the US government has been pursuing a series of counter-terrorism initiatives in Northwest Africa’s Sahara-Sahel region. These measures began with the Pan-Sahel Initiative (PSI), to ‘assist Mali, Niger, Mauritania, and Chad in protecting their borders, thus supporting the U.S. national security interests of waging war on terrorism and enhancing regional peace and security’. In 2005, the United States reformulated the PSI into the half-billion dollar Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative (TSCTI), ‘designed to provide a regional response to terrorism by offering a balanced program of military assistance, intel[ligence] sharing, democratization and good governance support, and humanitarian aid’. The TSCTI also expanded the scope of participation, bringing Algeria, Burkina Faso, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia into the project. The 2010 budget request for the re-branded Trans-Saharan Counter Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP) was $80.3 million. In the brave new world after 11 September 2001, this is small beans for a US development-security outlay; it represents just two percent of the 2010 development budget for Afghanistan (the State Department’s side of the civil-military counter-insurgency effort) or what the Pentagon plans to spend on Iraq and Afghanistan every six hours in 2010. The TSCTP is described in US government documents as ‘a multi-faceted, multi-year strategy aimed at defeating terrorist organizations by strengthening regional counter-terrorism capabilities, enhancing and institutionalizing cooperation among the region’s security forces, promoting democratic governance, discrediting terrorist ideology, and reinforcing bilateral military ties with the United States’. Apparently the TSCTP has been so successful that its ‘best practices’ have also been adapted to the East Africa Regional Strategic Initiative, a similar counter-terrorism program focusing on the Horn. Despite this commitment from the US government to the Sahara-Sahel, there is no consensus among policy makers, observers, regional governments and locals on-the-ground as to the ultimate rationale for these security initiatives.

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