Category: Africa
Report: U.N. gave arms to South Sudan rebels later implicated in massacre
| June 25, 2017 | 9:34 am | Africa, political struggle | No comments

Report: U.N. gave arms to South Sudan rebels later implicated in massacre

December 17, 2016

The U.N. mission in South Sudan gave weapons to a top rebel general just weeks after civil war began three years ago, and his forces went on to carry out one of the war’s worst atrocities, according to a  report released Thursday.

The Small Arms Survey, a ­Geneva-based research group, found that in December 2013
U.N. officials in the town of Bentiu in northern Unity state handed dozens of weapons, as well as ammunition, to rebel general James Koang.

Four months later, Koang’s troops killed hundreds of civilians sheltering in a mosque and a hospital in Bentiu, according to the United Nations and human rights groups. Koang has said in interviews that those killed were not civilians but members of a pro-government militia. The report did not say whether the weapons given by the United Nations were used in the massacre.

Asked about the allegations, the U.N. peacekeeping office in New York said in a statement that the U.N. mission had turned over the weapons to Koang shortly before he split with the government, “in response to direct threats” from the commander.

South Sudan’s war, which entered its fourth year Thursday, has pitted soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, against those backing the former vice president, Riek Machar, a Nuer. Tens of thousands of people have died in battles that have played out along ethnic lines, and U.N. officials and human rights groups have accused both sides of committing crimes against humanity. A top U.N. human rights official recently warned that the country is on the verge of “all-out ethnic civil war” that could result in genocide.

The United Nations established a peacekeeping mission in South Sudan in 2011 that has grown to more than 13,000 soldiers and police officers.

Throughout the war, the U.N. mission has found itself caught in the crossfire, accused by each side of supporting the other, with U.N. bases at times coming under attack. U.N. investigations, aid groups and research groups have accused the U.N. mission of failing to adequately protect civilians, including people on and near its bases.

According to the new report, U.N. officials in South Sudan said in interviews that they gave about 80 assault rifles, five machine guns, grenades and ammunition to Koang. At the time, U.N. officials in Bentiu reported to the mission’s headquarters in Juba that there had been a transfer of 40 rifles, the report said. It quoted an unidentified rebel, meanwhile, as saying they received 500 guns from the United Nations.

The weapons came from soldiers and civilians who fled to the U.N. base in Bentiu for protection during the fighting and handed over their weapons to peacekeepers, according to the report.

Koang, a soft-spoken Nuer who was the top government military official in Bentiu when the war began, quickly defected and took control of Bentiu. He asked the United Nations to give him the guns, according to the report. U.N. officials complied, apparently because they considered the general a friend, the report said.

“When [James] Koang took power, we all knew him,” said one unidentified official from the U.N. mission in South Sudan who was quoted in the report. “The majority of the opposition leaders in Bentiu had been our usual interlocutors. We had even trained them.”

The report said that U.N. officials in Bentiu asked their bosses in the capital for guidance on the matter but none came, so they made their own decision. A subsequent request by Koang for more weapons was turned down, it said.

The U.N. statement issued Saturday said that Koang was still part of the military at the time the weapons were handed over, and officially defected later in the month. The arms had been left on the periphery of the U.N. compound by soldiers fleeing the conflict, it said.

The United Nations and the U.S. government have imposed sanctions on Koang, with the U.S. Treasury Department saying that his rebels had “targeted civilians, including women and children, with killing, sexual violence and attacks on schools, hospitals, religious sites, and locations where civilians were seeking refuge.”

Meanwhile, the chief of the U.N. mission in South Sudan at the start of the war, Hilde Johnson, tried to give the government in Juba weapons that had been collected from Nuer who had fled to a U.N. base there after government soldiers went door-to-door executing Nuer citizens, according to the report.

The U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York overruled Johnson, the report said, citing a cable sent to her from the headquarters. After Johnson stepped down in July 2014, her successor destroyed the weapons, the report said.

The Small Arms Survey report said the episodes reveal how the U.N. mission, known as UNMISS, struggled to maintain unified command and control and to understand that the South Sudanese officials on both sides who they had worked with before the crisis were now liable to commit atrocities.

The two cases show that ­“UNMISS failed to adapt quickly enough to the changed circumstances provoked by the conflict, and that it lacked neutrality,” the report said. “Both issues also show that the conflict triggered divisions within UNMISS” over which forces to support.

The South Sudan government still accuses the U.N. mission of supporting the rebels, in part because some 200,000 mostly Nuer people are staying at U.N. bases for fear of attack by government forces. The government has not presented evidence to back such accusations. People on the bases are also critical of U.N. peacekeepers, accusing them of standing by or running away when Kiir’s troops have sprayed bullets inside.

This story has been updated with a statement by the United Nations. 

South Sudan “Rebels” and the CIA: Show Me the Money!
| June 25, 2017 | 9:21 am | Africa, Analysis, political struggle | No comments

South Sudan “Rebels” and the CIA: Show Me the Money!

For going on 3 years now a “rebel army” of some 20,000 South Sudanese soldiers have been fighting to overthrow the Salva Kiir government without any visible means of support. The government has oil revenues and aid funds but the “rebels” (and their propaganda arm in the west) have not been asked by anyone in the international media to “show me the money”.

Why? Maybe the recent kidnapping of Chinese oil company workers as a part of the “rebels” demand that China abandon its only oil field in Africa in Sudan. which can best be described as a blow struck on behalf of the “US National Interest”, for the USA is the only party that benefits by the South Sudanese civil war.

Getting China out of African energy is why the CIA is picking up the tab for this most savage series of tribal based ethnic cleansing and massacres, to the tune of over $300 million and counting. Where else could this kind of off the books cash be coming from?

Do the math, 20,000 under arms at  salaries starting at $300 a month and then add food, supplies, fuel, ammunition etc and you get a monthly nut of close to $10 million, over a $100 million a year and this for years now.

Show me the money! is the golden rule and why isn’t anyone asking this question when it comes to the South Sudan civil war? Who else could it be but the CIA that these “rebels” are getting their blood money from?

More articles by:

Thomas C. Mountain attended Punahou School for six years some half a dozen years before “Barry O’Bombers” time there. He has been living and writing from Eritrea since 2006. He can be reached at thomascmountain at g_ mail_ dot _com

Africa/Europe: Mediterranean Trajectories
| June 19, 2017 | 7:34 pm | Africa | No comments

AfricaFocus Bulletin June 19, 2017 (170619) (Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor’s Note

“On July 5, 2016, a 36-year-old Nigerian asylum seeker named Emmanuel Chidi Nnamdi was beaten to death by Amedeo Mancini, a 39-year-old Italian soccer ultra associated with a local chapter of the neo-fascist CasaPound Italy political movement. Emmanuel and his wife Chinyery had fled the violence wreaked by the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria after losing their parents and a two-year-old daughter when their village church was set on fire. They undertook the dangerous journey through Libya and across the Mediterranean on a smuggler’s boat, during which Chinyery suffered a miscarriage, finally arriving in Palermo. The harrowing story of Emmanuel and Chinyery is far from an isolated case, however.” – Camilla Hawthorne, “In Search of Black Italia”

Migration, whether of those now legally defined as refugees or other migrants, is a universal phenomenon, throughout history and on all continents. In today’s world, this takes on increasing prominence, both in news coverage and in political debate. Yet news and politics are tilted unequally, toward the sensational and toward those cases that are privileged because of geopolitical or other bias. Yet the lives of refugees and migrants, whether of today or from previous generations, are far more complex than the images most often viewed.

The AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from two articles that go beyond the surface: (1) Camilla Hawthorne’s article quoted above, on Black Italians of different generations; and (2) a recent first-hand account of the complex situation in Southwest Libya, one of the least visited crossroads of the migration within Africa and through Africa to Europe, by Claudia Gazzini of the International Crisis Group.

Other recent commentaries that go beyond the iconic images of migrants dying in the Mediterranean, to explore the complex human realities and identities in the trajectories of migration across the “African Mediterranean,” include:

  • Nunu Kidane, “Stepping back from sensationalist stories on African migration,” OpenDemocracy, May 4, 2017
  • Laura Delle Femmine, “Room in the middle: the Africans repopulating Spain’s Dying Villages,” The Guardian, June 11, 2017
  • Fulvio Vassallo Paleologo, “Elementi per un esposto nei confronti del governo italiano a seguito dell’applicazione del Memorandum d’intesa sottoscritto con il governo di Tripoli il 2 febbraio 2017”, Associazione Diritti e Frontiere (Rights and Borders Association), June 14, 2017 – Google translation to English is at
  • Exile Guayla, Eritrean Music in Switzerland, 8-minute video Afropop, June 16, 2017
  • Stuart A. Thompson and Anjali Singhvi, “Efforts to Rescue Migrants Caused Deadly, Unexpected Consequences, “New York Times, June 14, 2017 Includes very revealing interactive map of location of rescues at sea, nearer each year to the coast of Libya.
  • Brennan Weiss, “Ghana is safe and stable, but its young people are still risking their lives to cross to Europe,” Quartz, June 13, 2017

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on migration, visit


AfricaFocus Bulletin will be taking a break from publication for the next two weeks. The Bulletin will resume in early July. The AfricaFocus website and Facebook page will continue to be updated during this break.

To support continuing AfricaFocus publication and education efforts, please consider contributing through one of the following channels:

  1.$africafocus– to pay with debit card from a U.S.- based bank,
  2. – to pay with a PayPal account.
  3. – to print out a form to send by mail with a check or money order.

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor’s note+++++++++++++++++

In Search of Black Italia : notes on race, belonging, and activism in the black Mediterranean

Camilla Hawthorne

Transition, 2017

On July 5, 2016, a 36-year-old Nigerian asylum seeker named Emmanuel Chidi Nnamdi was beaten to death by Amedeo Mancini, a 39-year-old Italian soccer ultra associated with a local chapter of the neo-fascist CasaPound Italy political movement. Emmanuel and his wife Chinyery had fled the violence wreaked by the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria after losing their parents and a two-year-old daughter when their village church was set on fire. They undertook the dangerous journey through Libya and across the Mediterranean on a smuggler’s boat, during which Chinyery suffered a miscarriage, finally arriving in Palermo. The harrowing story of Emmanuel and Chinyery is far from an isolated case, however. UNHCR estimates that in 2016, over 37,000 Nigerians arrived to Italy via the Mediterranean. That year, Nigerians made up approximately 21% of sea arrivals, followed by Eritreans at 11%.

Students from University of Southern Mississippi meet with African migrants at hostel in Ponte Felcino, Perugia, Italy, in study visit led by Bob Press and Joshua Hill. Credit: Barbara Pilati.

Emmanuel and Chinyery had been living at the bishop’s seminary in a small Italian seaside town, Fermo since the previous September, and were married in January. Six months later on the afternoon of July 5, the couple was going for a walk when two men began shouting insults at them. At one point, one of the men grabbed Chinyery and called her “una scimmia africana [an African monkey].” When Emmanuel intervened to defend his wife from this assault, Mancini attacked him with a street sign ripped out of the ground nearby. Emmanuel fell into an irreversible coma from the beating, and died the following day. The murder of Emmanuel Chidi Nnamdi rapidly, albeit fleetingly, brought together two groups in Italy who were normally not in direct dialogue, at least not at the level of formal political activism–that is, newlyarrived migrants and refugees from sub-Saharan Africa on the one hand, and the Italian-born or raised children of African immigrants on the other. This is because the brutal attack made shockingly apparent the precariousness of what Frantz Fanon in Black Skin, White Masks (1952) famously called the “fact of blackness” or “the lived experience of the black man” in Italy which, in many ways, transcends immigration and citizenship status–arguably, the primary ways in which questions of “difference” are framed institutionally in Italy.

And indeed, the outpouring of horror, grief, and anger that was expressed in the wake of Emmanuel Chidi Nnamdi’s murder over private text message exchanges and phone calls, and across public-facing social media postings and calls to action, always condensed to a single, nightmarish point: This could have been any one of us. Merely for committing the violation of being black in public, Nnamdi’s name had been added to the ever-growing roll call of black victims of racist violence in Italy– one that stretches from Jerry Masslo (the South African political asylee murdered near Naples in 1989), to Abdul “Abba” Guibre (the 19-year- old Burkinabe who grew up in Italy and was beaten to death in Milan in 2008), to Samb Modou and Diop Mor (the two Senegalese migrants murdered in Florence in 2011 by another member of the CasaPound). This, in the land of Italiani, brava gente [good Italian people]: the perpetrators of a supposedly more “gentle” and “mild” form of colonialism in Africa, the “underdogs” of Europe who, thanks to their own national experience of large-scale emigration and history of being racialized as “Mediterranean,” had less of an innate capacity for racism. Or so the story goes . . .

As anti-racism protests erupted in cities across Italy that hot and sticky summer, from Fermo to Milan to Rome, demonstrations under the banner of #BlackLivesMatter were also mushrooming across the United States and in European cities such as London, Paris, and Amsterdam in response to the state-sanctioned murders of black men and women at the hands of police officers. Many young black Italians earnestly followed these global struggles against anti-black violence from the international window afforded to them by Facebook, noting to me the ways in which their struggles against everyday and institutional forms of racism in Italy seemed to be so clearly intertwined with the mobilizations of their sisters and brothers in other countries. The issues that interested activists in Italy may not have precisely mirrored the main violations that were mobilizing protesters in other corners of the black diaspora (instead of–or perhaps in addition to–police brutality, there are restrictive citizenship laws and the deaths of black migrants in the Mediterranean due to the violence of Fortress Europe’s border regimes). Still, my friends and interlocutors in Italy expressed a shared sense of their very blackness being under siege in the context of both micro-level interactions and large-scale bureaucratic encounters. In Milan, an anti-racism and anti-fascism protest was organized less than a week after Nnamdi’s death with the help of the youth organization Il comitato per non dimenticare Abba e per fermare il razzismo [The Committee to Remember Abba and Stop Racism]. This group formed by a multiracial collective of young people in 2008 in response to the racially motivated murder of Abdul Guibre, still organizes language workshops and public events in Milan about the relationship between racism, xenophobia, militarism, border fortification, and capitalism. The Milan-based DJ Marvely Goma Perseverance expressed the continuities (and disjunctures) stretching from Abdul Guibre to Emmanuel Chidi Nnamdi in a wrenching open letter addressed to the deceased Abba, published on July 9 in the Italian web magazine GRIOT:

A lifetime spent with a finger pointed at us, condemned to excel so that we don’t fall into the category of the “usual immigrants” or the “usual blacks,” as if we had chosen to be born “black,” as though we had chosen that label–which, among other things, I never under- stood. . . . Goodbye Abba, I miss you so much and here nothing has changed. The other day they beat and killed Emmanuel. I didn’t know him but unlike you, who was born Italian, he had a different story that was similar to that of our parents, a refugee in search of Christian charity and calm where he could nurture his own hopes.

On the day of the protest organized by the Comitato in Milan, I was walking with my friend Evelyne, who was that day clad in her trademark red dashiki and a fresh twistout, as we headed to make handmade posters near the iconic Piazza Duomo. Evelyne, a plucky 29-year-old Italian-Ghanaian woman who grew up in nearby Brianza, is widely known in Italy as the creator of the first Italian-language Facebook page and blog addressing the care of natural Afro-textured hair, Nappytalia. Evelyne has, in the last two-and-a-half years, rocketed to mini stardom in Italy–she has been invited to give TEDx talks and speak at universities, she has won numerous entrepreneurship awards both nationally and internationally, and she is often recognized on the street as “la ragazza di Nappytalia [the girl from Nappytalia].”

As Evelyne and I commiserated about the social and logistic chal- lenges of organizing political demonstrations in Italy, she proceeded to whip out her smartphone, open up the Facebook application, and proudly swipe through photos of a #BlackLivesMatter march that had taken place not long ago in London. We took refuge from the beating sun in the shade of a portico near an empty café, huddled over her phone near a teetering stack of chairs, while she explained to me that the black-clad activists posing solemnly with raised fists in the photos before us were actually black Italians living, working, and studying in London. Several had met each other for the first time through their involvement in the U.K. demonstration.

Evelyne, like so many other young black Italians born or raised in Italy, had found some inspiration in the model of autonomous black political action represented by #BlackLivesMatter. She saw it as an incitement to build similar types of anti-racist movements in Italy, even if the specific contours of anti-blackness in Italy differed from the primary issues centered by activists in the United States and in the emerging U.K.-based offshoot of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. But for other black Italians, the connection between these struggles was far less self-evident. A prominent Ugandan-Sudanese blogger based in Milan, who over the last year has gained a substantial online following for her smart social commentary, slickly produced anti-racism videos, and curation of beauty tutorials for black women, posted an incitement to Facebook that brought to a head the unspoken tensions within a new generation that has only very recently (and very tentatively) begun to collectively refer to itself as Afro- or black Italian:

Guys, we are not in America and we are not Americans #chill you’re more concerned, shouting, and crying for the injustices suffered by African Americans than for things that are happening in the country where you live, your country of origin, and many other places where injustice and discrimination run rampant . . . #blacklivesmatter here blacklivesmatter there.

A heated debate quickly ensued under the blogger’s aforementioned, indignant message, one I heard directly referenced in passionate conversation over countless aperitifs and coffees in the subsequent weeks. But on that sleepless summer night, I was affixed to my laptop screen as I tried desperately to piece together news reports of racist violence and black resistance from Minnesota, Louisiana, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, and Fermo.

And with each new and increasingly irate addition to the discussion about black Italians and their connection to #BlackLivesMatter, my browser emitted an incongruously cheery two-tone notification alert. BA-BING! “I am half American, so I feel the injustices and hypocrisies of both countries,” replied one woman from Reggio Emilia, the daughter of an African American father and an Italian mother. BA-BING! “Afro-Italians simply need to stop emulating African Americans . . . Afro-Italians can create something better, which hopefully won’t be based on skin color and the stupid ‘one-drop’ rule,” retorted another commenter. BA-BING! “This is why I don’t agree with the use of the term ‘Afro-Italian,'” responded an Italian-Afro-Brazilian student activist from Rome. “It refers to African Americans, but here in Italy and in Europe . . . there is no ‘Afro’ in common,” she continued, arguing that Afrodescendants in Europe tend to identify with their or their parents’ country of origin. A Ghanaian-Italian medical student from Verona with a keen interest in the black diaspora attempted to mediate between the various positions that had been expressed earlier: “It is true, yes, that we and black Americans swim in different waters. Just as it’s true that we are able to take our first steps thanks to them. They are different waters, but at the end of the day we are all drowning in the same sea.”

* * *

This debate about the relationship between black Italians and African Americans, while a small snapshot in time, actually encapsulates several fundamental questions about racial politics and blackness in contemporary Italy.

[Article continues with analyses of identity and a special section of photographs: available at]

Traversing the Tribal Patchwork of Libya’s South West

Claudia Gazzini — Direct URL:

Our Senior Analyst Claudia Gazzini travels to southern Libya and finds neglect, smugglers, a gold rush, and simmering tensions among a patchwork of ethnic, tribal and militia actors on the edge of the Sahara Desert. She also discovers much longing for a united, well-governed Libya.

Sebha, Libya — To understand the full extent of the impact of the civil war that has fractured the rest of the country into warring fiefdoms, it is critical to visit southern Libya. In April, I had my first chance in two years to get there. There are no commercial flights, no foreign aid missions and traveling 800km by car through a maze of militia-run checkpoints and eager kidnappers is simply not an option.

By a stroke of luck, I am offered a lift by one of the few organisations still operating in south Libya and one of the most important players there: the National Oil Corporation (NOC). Despite recurrent fighting for control of oil fields, export terminals and pipelines, the NOC sustains the north-south flight link to maintain oil fields and keep production flowing.

I check in at a now-bustling former military airfield in Metiga, in Tripoli’s eastern suburbs to join a shift of mostly northern Libyan oil workers on a 100-seat commercial jet. Since fighting in 2014 crippled the capital’s main airport, all domestic and international flights operate from here. My fellow travellers are quiet on what for them is a routine journey.

But south Libya is hardly calm. A plane from the south’s main city, Sebha, was hijacked last year, forcing the closure of that airport. Indeed, the cycles of violence can be bewildering.

Before my trip, the Libyan National Army (LNA), under the command of Gen. Khalifa Haftar, threatened to attack another Sebha airport, the Tamenhint air base, which at the time of my visit to the south was controlled by another faction, the so-called “Third Force”, originally from the northern city of Misrata. Tamenhint was subject to recurrent attacks by a militia backed by the LNA.

Shortly after my trip, the Third Force took apparent revenge by attacking Haftar’s forces in the Brak al-Shati air base, 80km north of Sebha. They killed between 80 and 130 people (numbers are still disputed), mostly LNA soldiers, but also some civilians that were on the base or driving nearby. For the northern belligerents, Sebha and the south are strategic prizes in an ongoing conflict, and neither side will easily give up control.

Luckily the NOC plane is flying me to somewhere else, the Sharara oil field, about 200km west of Sebha. All these places are deep in the Sahara Desert and are seldom visited by outsiders. Analysts like me usually focus on Libya’s long Mediterranean coastline and far more populated cities of Tripoli, Benghazi, Tobruk, Sirte and Misrata, which have been at the political and military core of the conflict.

When Muammar Qadhafi, the self-styled “Brotherly Leader” of Libya, was ousted in 2011, the shattering of his iron grip fractured the country into warring pieces. There are now three rival governments and parliaments, but barely any sense of a state anymore. The key players are a multitude of militias, none of which can control the whole country.

I want to find out to what extent these centrifugal forces have split the tribes and ethnic groups that live in the urban oases and arid sands of the south. And how the local economy has evolved: while the collapse of central authority has turned the region’s desert routes to the Sahel into a crossroads for smugglers, migrants heading to Europe and jihadists, the south is also home to Libya’s great riches. These include not just oil, but also deep aquifers of water and mines for gold as well.

One Desert, Many Factions

The main political-military actors from the north vie for influence in the south, especially control of main roads and key infrastructure. Haftar’s LNA works with the eastern government and parliament, whereas Misrata’s Third Force is nominally loyal to the UN-backed Government of National Accord headed by Prime Minister Faiez alSerraj in Tripoli. Still others are aligned with a rival government in Tripoli headed by Prime Minister Khalifa al-Ghwell. The picture is further complicated by local factions that are loosely aligned with the above-mentioned centres of power. More often than not, these factions are internally split, with some of their members supporting one political-military grouping or another.

Access to this region is so limited that few foreigners, including myself, can know with certainty what is happening on the ground. Libyan media coverage of events in the south tends to be politically charged, and often paints a distorted picture of reality.

After a 90-minute flight, we touch down in Sharara. From the small oval airplane window I can see the shiny complex around the oil field. Even the oil sector workers who travel here rarely make it out of their well-groomed compound. Frustrated local communities often complain that those operating in Libya’s lucrative oil business have no understanding of local dynamics. One consequence is that armed groups or protesters living close to the oil fields or along the pipeline that transports crude oil to the north frequently shut down production as a way to lobby for their demands, adding to strains on the already fragile Libyan economy.

At the airfield, I split off from the oil workers to follow the road less travelled. I’m with Abderrahim, my long-time driver in Tripoli, who accompanies me on my journeys. I speak Arabic and have known Libya for ten years, but his solid presence is an interface and reassurance for everyone I meet — and for me. He has a warm smile, is soft-spoken and somehow manages to get along with all Libyan interlocutors of different religious and political affiliations whom I meet across the country.

It is vital to have local contacts as well, ready to receive me wherever I go in Libya. This is Tuareg country, so I have arranged for a Tuareg acquaintance to meet and look after us on the first leg of my journey. He is a trusted and well-connected civil society activist. We have been introduced by a very respectable Tuareg sheikh I have known for years. Like anywhere else in the country, you need to know who you can trust.

What I didn’t expect is for my contact to be accompanied by three cars and several gunmen. It is not uncommon for the Tuareg to carry weapons, and many residents –not necessarily professional soldiers — are armed. The men who escort me are discrete and do not flash their weapons ostentatiously, but I notice that aside from the ubiquitous semi-automatic AK-47 rifles, they also have PK heavy machine guns with belts of bullets. My guide explains it is just a precaution against kidnapping. Two Italian engineers were seized in a nearby town last year and he alleges that a ransom was paid for their release. Many locals, especially impoverished youth, may seek to replicate that to win what locally amounts to a fortune. I’m in his hands.

Given our arsenal, it’s not surprising that these men would not be comfortable going through checkpoints manned by members of other tribes. All of the checkpoints between Sharara and Obari, where we are headed, are under the control of Tuareg in military fatigues who say they take orders from a Qadhafi-era Tuareg commander, Ali Kana. So as long as I stay in this area, I am able to move around easily with my escort.

Disinherited Tuaregs

We reach my first stop, the town of Obari. Under Qadhafi, Obari was a hub for any traveller seeking to experience desert life in the Sahara. I myself had been here back in 2008, part of an archaeological mission from Oxford University researching rock art. Now there are battle-damaged buildings, the hotels are all closed and I am the closest thing to a tourist anybody has seen since a handful of journalists came here in 2016 to report on battles that broke out in the town. After I’m welcomed into a private home, I set out to find the Tuareg guides who took care of me during that two-week long mission in the desert plateau behind Obari. There is so little for anyone to do now, it’s not hard to track them down.

They and others fill me in on the downward spiral of commercial collapse, the gradual shutting down of links with the outside world and two years of war between two groups: the Tebu, a dark-skinned people who live in Sudan, Chad, Niger and Libya; and the Tuareg, a historically nomadic Berber people who straddle the borderlands of the Sahara across Niger, southern Algeria and Mali. In 2014, the Tuareg accused the Tebu of attempting to impose themselves militarily on Obari, which the Tuareg consider historically their territory. For their part, the Tebu claim that they had to attack Obari, where some Tebu also live, because it had become a hotbed for jihadists. The war ended in the summer of 2016 with a ceasefire but without a clear winner.

On the surface at least, life seems normal. But the town is falling through the cracks of post-revolutionary Libya. Municipal services like electricity, water or schools barely function. Under Qadhafi, most Libyan Tuaregs served as a military force, paid for by the central state. But he didn’t give them official citizenship, and after the revolution their salaries were abruptly cut off. Unlike the Tuaregs of popular imagination, in their everyday life the Obari Tuaregs don’t wear mysterious wrappings of indigo-dyed desert robes or habitually ride camels. Some don military uniforms, reflecting the reality that most inhabitants align with one militia or the other simply in order to get paid. My friends wear tight jeans and sandals, and feel abandoned.

The irony, though, is clear. There is great wealth in the southern oil fields, but it is funnelled to the north, helped by those same NOC flights that lift workers far above deprived locals’ heads.

After two days in Obari, my contact passes me over to my next helper. My new guide is from a respected southern Arab tribe and is able to travel between Tuareg-controlled Obari and Sebha, which is mainly controlled by other factions. We set off on what is still a good asphalt road. The occasional checkpoints wave through ordinary cars, but trucks are getting stopped and their drivers have to pay tolls for their loads. This is the illicit economy in action.

The Cracked Jewel of the South

Sebha is not suffering from active conflict during my visit, but it looks battered after experiencing five rounds of local war between Arab tribes like the Qadhadhfa (Qadhafi’s tribe), the Awlad Suleiman and the Tebu. There are burned-out cars on the streets. The former main hotel sits lifeless and derelict. Migrants can be seen passing through, crowded onto the back of pickup trucks. Small wonder, perhaps, that on the road in from Obari I see green flags painted on the gates of some homes, showing occasional nostalgia for the old Qadhafi regime.

There are no central government security forces. Fuel is being sold on the black market on many street corners. The city is carved up into neighbourhoods, with makeshift barriers serving as de facto border demarcations between various militias. No single faction is fully in command. Very few international organisations are now present in Sebha, just one or two offices stripped back to a nominal local presence.

Despite the divisions and uncertainties, there is a kind of normality too. I am able to rent a flat for our stay. In my light veil and long clothes, I move about most parts of the city to meet the various factions and commanders. I don’t meet the people traffickers themselves, but speak to others who know what’s going on. I’m free to ask as many questions as I like about all aspects of the huge rise in the smuggling economy. Sebha’s residents know that in theory smuggling — including of people — is illicit, but most consider it legitimate, normal and profitable. These are just jobs, indeed the only way to make ends meet now that Libya’s economy is in ruins and cash is hard to obtain.

A municipal council operates in an imposing building in downtown Sebha, but tensions among councillors are so high that some prefer to meet me in a more informal setting. Other friends arrange for me to pass into the shanty town dwellings of their poor quarter of Tuyuri, divided into one section where Tebu live and another with Tuareg. Others again are keen to show me Sebha’s old city, now uninhabited but once the heart of this oasis town. They even show me where the Italian school was in the 1930s.

When there is no fighting, like now, schools and the local university are functioning. Electricity comes and goes (at times for more than 12 hours), but while I am there power seems steady. Drinking water still flows to many houses thanks to Qadhafi’s “Great Man-made River”, connected to fossil aquifers deep under the Sahara. Surrounded by desert, I even see some gardens that are lush and blooming.

Some illegal immigrants can be seen in the streets, but they are evidently the lucky few. Many are kept across town in large warehouses, often in atrocious conditions, until they change hands to other smugglers who take them one step further north in a long supply chain that ends in southern Europe. Others, unable to pay for their trip, are forced to stay put to cultivate land, load trucks or undertake other labourintensive work to earn money for their onward journey. Organisations like the International Organization for Migration (IOM) report that in Sebha sub-Saharan migrants are being sold and bought by Libyan traffickers, a trade they denounced as being comparable to “slave markets”. I did not see this and heard many Sehba residents complain that these accusations are exaggerated. But there is no doubt that these migrants I see have already endured a lot, and could suffer even beatings and rape in the next leg of their trip.

Libya’s Wild West

After three nights in Sebha, I’m on the road again, fortunately this time without an armed escort. The next destination is Murzuq, in territory that is dominated by the Tebu and which has not seen any fighting in recent years. A good Tebu friend in Tripoli sends his cousin to take me there.

We pass many trucks filled with goods on their way to Chad and Niger. The Libyan government imports refined fuel and then subsidises it for local use, which makes onward sales to sub-Saharan Africa highly profitable for smugglers. I expect to see many more vehicles with migrants, but I am told that though we are also driving in the direction of the border to Niger, smugglers transporting migrants to Sebha take another route, slightly further east from where we are.

As soon as we enter Murzuq, it’s clear the town is better off than Obari and Sebha. Luxurious houses rise in some streets and the atmosphere is clearly calm. An Ottomanera fortress dominates the town. There are no hotels here, as in Sebha and Obari, so visitors like me have to stay in people’s homes. This works out better for me too, as I learn far more about daily life there than on my own or in hotels.

The city has enjoyed relative stability primarily because there is just one dominant group, and also because the town’s two security chiefs — one loyal to Haftar, the other to Ghwell — have gone on with their respective jobs without picking a fight.

The boom in gold mining in the area bordering Chad and Niger is also boosting the local economy, probably more so than human smuggling. My hosts here say as much as seven kilos of gold (worth nearly $300,000) passes through town daily on the way to outside markets, adding to a sense that this is Libya’s Wild West.

Elusive Jihadists

As I travel through the south, I am constantly aware of reports of Islamic State fighters transiting through the south, fleeing the major setback they were handed by a coalition of Misratan militias that drove them out of Sirte in December 2016 after a six-month battle. I see no sign of jihadists, but so many people tell me about them that it’s clear that some are passing through discreetly and most likely heading to one of the countries to the south, through the Salvador Pass on the Libya-Niger border.

One reason for this could be that few southerners seem interested in ISIS ideology. Some young women I meet in Obari say that some of their relatives are with the Benghazi Revolutionaries’ Shura Council, a group that is fighting alongside the Islamic State against Haftar’s LNA. But they say these men are mainly motivated by anti-Haftar sentiment, and had already joined another anti-Haftar coalition formed in Tripoli in 2014. Few, if any, seem to have joined ISIS themselves, though some admit that, in the immediate aftermath of Qadhafi’s fall, they had joined armed groups that they later discovered were associated with al-Qaeda.

With all the shifting allegiances, people find it difficult to work out who is supposed to be “good” and who is “bad”. They tell me that they want to be with the legitimate factions, but don’t know which those might be. They don’t see the strings being pulled behind the greater daily rush of political chaos. They have people they have to feed, and inadvertently risk aligning with a terrorist group or an illegitimate armed faction, just because that’s all what’s on offer at that time.

A Libyan Enigma

An easy return to Obari, then on to the Sharara oil field airfield, and a quiet flight back to Tripoli affords me time to reflect on what I’ve seen. The ethnic and tribal patchwork I have just criss-crossed seems chaotic, but it is not exponentially different from the rest of Libya. In fact, there is much that is still shared. Even if the economy is all about smuggling to neighbouring countries, it is based on Libyan factors like a policy of subsidising fuel imports that make reselling it so lucrative, a national currency that everyone uses and nationwide lines of supply for most of the goods in the shops.

Many of the local ethnic and tribal groups remain at loggerheads despite ongoing efforts to heal these rifts. Indeed, local leaders tell me that they meet more often at conferences outside the country than at home. But these are still conferences about the south’s place in Libya, and it seems to me that rather than promoting an active separatist dynamic, tribal leaders and local military actors are simply filling a power vacuum. Government officials mostly sit at home, waiting for the political struggles in the big cities on the Mediterranean coast to produce a functioning state again.

The bottom line for southerners is that they have an irresistible financial incentive to continue illicit economic activities, at least compared to the moribund legitimate economy. Profitability trumps legality wherever there are mouths to feed. Unless the legal economy is put back on track, it will be very difficult for interested powers to tackle the smuggling of goods and people. People are in need of salaries, services and security, and they await the moment a central state can once again offer that.

If there is one thing that my trip confirms to me once again, it is a paradox. Despite all the divisions and neglect, Libya is not just a country of two halves, three governments and countless tribes. The Libyans I meet still see themselves as belonging to one country. When the right moment comes, ethnic and tribal divisions can one day be bridged again.

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South Africa: #Guptaleaks – Will Heads Roll?
| June 6, 2017 | 9:00 pm | Africa | No comments

South Africa: #Guptaleaks – Will Heads Roll?

AfricaFocus Bulletin June 6, 2017 (170606) (Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor’s Note

“The Guptas have until now escaped investigation from the state agencies because they have purchased indemnity. You have to hand it to the Guptas; the way they went about capturing the state is quite impressive. Not only did they buy the president and his son, they targeted key people in government that could act as their minions. When people were resistant to their agenda, they scouted for bootlickers and had them appointed. They paid off people in the security agencies to make sure they would not be bothered with criminal investigations.” – Daily Maverick, June 5, 2017

In the United States and around the world, the news is dominated by the latest twist in President Trump’ express train to disaster, including the escalating revelations of the Trump/Russia investigation. In South Africa, to comparatively little notice around the world, the news is dominated by #Guptaleaks, as confidential emails continue to emerge documenting the spiderweb of corruption linking President Zuma and his team to a family of Indian businessmen who arrived in South Africa in 1993 and quickly built up a business empire and political influence.

The Gupta family mansion in Saxonwold, Johannesburg

They also worked with businesses both in South Africa and around the world to manage “illicit financial flows” of the profits to India, Dubai, and elsewhere. Recent investigations, for example, found a mansion in Dubai purchased for President Zuma, adjacent to a similar mansion for President Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Also of note is that many of the companies involved are concentrated in the energy sector, in coal and nuclear in particular.

It is difficult even for South Africans, or for international financial experts and lawyers, to keep up with the wide cast of characters and intrigue that is being exposed, and definitely impossible for those of us not intimately familiar with the South African political and business scene and how international money laundering works. A succinct summary is therefore impossible.

But the impact, although unpredictable, will be decisive for the future of South Africa. To give a glimpse into the issue, AfricaFocus includes here one of the many recent articles from the Daily Maverick and the AmaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism, which have been leading the investigation, and brief excerpts from a comprehensive analysis and report released by the State Capacity Research Project last month.

For updates on #Guptaleaks, even though it has not yet caught the attention of world media, the best strategy for those outside South Africa is a Google news search: as of today, this search gives 90,600 hits, including 50,100 from websites in South Africa.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on South Africa, visit

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on corruption and illicit financial flows, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor’s note+++++++++++++++++

#GuptaLeaks: What does email trove mean for Zuma and South Africa?

Ranjeni Mumusamy

Daily Maverick, June 5, 2017 – Direct URL:

Plausible deniability. President Jacob Zuma’s greatest self-defence strategy is the ability to manoeuvre to ensure that nothing can be directly pinned on him. From his corruption case to the Nkandla upgrades to the ANC’s losses at the polls to the activities of the Gupta family, the president’s excuse is either that these things happened without his knowledge or have nothing to do with him. That is the big problem with all the revelations so far from the massive tranche of leaked emails implicating the Gupta family in state capture. Is there a smoking gun that directly connects Zuma to the Guptas’ illicit activities? And what are we supposed to do with all this information?

Ever since the private plane full of wedding guests landed at Waterkloof Air Force Base in April 2013, South Africans have known that the Guptas are a bunch of rotters who have free run of the state. Between then and now, there has been a constant stream of revelations about the extent of the Guptas’ infiltration of the government system, how they have bought political influence and taken over control from the ANC.

Before the leak of the Gupta emails, the evidence in the public domain was already damning and sufficient to pursue prosecutions. Mcebisi Jonas, then a deputy minister in government, confirmed publicly that he had been offered a R600 million incentive to take the job of finance minister. The circumstances around the purchase of the Optimum coal mine had corruption written all over it. The closure of the Guptas’ bank accounts after their transactions had been red flagged by the Financial Intelligence Centre necessitated an investigation into money laundering.

The Guptas have until now escaped investigation from the state agencies because they have purchased indemnity. You have to hand it to the Guptas; the way they went about capturing the state is quite impressive. Not only did they buy the president and his son, they targeted key people in government that could act as their minions. When people were resistant to their agenda, they scouted for bootlickers and had them appointed. They paid off people in the security agencies to make sure they would not be bothered with criminal investigations.

The Guptas also knew how to service and keep their gallery of dancing marionettes happy. Their compound in Saxonwold is like Vegas. Apart from Jonas, former government spokesman Themba Maseko and former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor, whatever happened in Saxonwold stayed in Saxonwold.

The parade of politicians and officials in government and state owned enterprises keep the secrets of whatever is discussed and plotted behind those high walls. In the case of minion without portfolio, Brian Molefe, he would rather conjure up a Saxonwold shebeen than disclose his comings and goings to the Gupta compound.

An essential part of the state capture process was the Guptas’ communications operation. Through The New Age and ANN7, the Guptas ran their own propaganda machinery. Through a partnership with the SABC, they not only set up a scheme to channel large payments from state owned enterprises, they were also able to show off their political connections including the president, Cabinet ministers and provincial premiers. Then through the Bell Pottinger spin operation, they paid a range of useful idiots to direct the national discourse, manipulate social media conversations and attempt to demonise journalists.

The Guptas were thorough and tactical. They invested a lot of money in setting up their patronage network of people who would do exactly what they wanted. For a long time, their investment paid massive dividends.

Ordinary people have an odd fascination with audacious crimes. This is why people are still in awe of the Great Train Robbery in 1963 when £2.6 million was stolen from a Royal Mail train. The remake of the comedy heist film Ocean’s Eleven raked in over $450 million at the box office because the storyline of the most sophisticated, elaborate casino heist in history continues to enthral people. In South Africa the brazen 1996 R31 million SBV robbery was talked about for years afterwards and also became a movie.

The Public Protector’s State of Capture report, the South African Council of Churches Unburdening Panel and the State Capacity Research Project by academics from four universities all show how the Guptas went about gaining access to the state and manipulating people and processes to amass wealth. Through their “silent coup”, they progressively sucked away power and influence from the ANC.

The information released from the email trove so far shows minute details of the Guptas behind-the-scenes operations. From their manipulation of contracts to the movement of money to a glimpse into their opulent lifestyles, the emails crank open their world a little wider so that the rest of the world can gawk.

It is almost like a real life Ocean’s Eleven with South Africa as the casino being robbed – the Gupta brothers are ugly versions of George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon.

The emails reflect that central role of the president’s son, Duduzane, in knitting together the patronage network in exchange for the Guptas sponsoring his flamboyant lifestyle. Raunchy attachments to his emails also reveal that he is a philanderer with a taste for the highlife but that simply adds lewd unnecessary details to an already messy story.

What ought to be the focus are the people involved, how the Guptas’ representatives pulled people’s strings and greased their palms, how money was moved, how money was stolen from the state and who aided and abetted them.

Revelations in the emails of how Gupta employees coached and wrote scripts for ANC officials, including the ANC Youth League president shows that the political discourse in the country is fake and driven by an agenda. It is now clear the radical economic transformation narrative was fabricated to distract change the conversation away from the corrupt activities of the patronage network.

But the email leak has yet to produce the smoking gun that links Zuma directly to the Guptas activities. All that has been revealed has so far been circumstantial and there is no firm evidence that Zuma intends relocating to Dubai. While Duduzane’s fingerprints are all over the state capture crime scene, there is nothing to indicate that Zuma was aware or involved in his son’s activities.

In this case, the sins of the son cannot be visited upon the father. But that does not mean there is no case to answer. If Zuma were still accountable to the ANC, he would have had to answer how he came to appoint people in his Cabinet that the Guptas scouted. A proper criminal investigation would ask the same questions of Zuma.

Judge Hilary Squires pointed to a “mutually beneficial symbiosis” between Zuma and his former financial advisor Schabir Shaik who was convicted of corruption. While Zuma might have plausible deniability with regard to the emails, there is enough evidence in the public domain for him to answer some hard questions in a credible corruption investigation.

The avalanche of information released from the email tranche could cause a more severe case of scandal fatigue amongst the South African public. There is too much to process and the information simply confirms the extent to which the Guptas infested the state in order to drain resources through numerous channels.

A judicial commission of inquiry might be the only way to process and test all the information credibly. But because Zuma is charged with appointing it, a conflict of interest is bound to arise both regarding which judge he appoints to head it and the terms of reference. Zuma’s application for a review of the Public Protector’s report that recommended that the Chief Justice name the judge means that the matter will be dragged out for some time before the inquiry can be appointed.

The reliance on the judicial commission of inquiry however lets the police and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) off the hook in pursuing the matter. The fact that the Hawks and the NPA are not under public pressure to investigate and effect prosecutions means that people accept that these institutions are lost cause and under the thumb of Zuma and the Guptas.

The emails provide prima facie evidence of corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering. These cannot be investigated and prosecuted by a judicial commission. The full extent of the Guptas’ activities have yet to be revealed, and possibly might be as reports on the emails reel out. What is needed is an extensive criminal investigation against the Guptas, Duduzane Zuma and others in their network.

Smoking gun or not, whoever is implicated must be investigated. And if there is plausible deniability, let’s hear it. In a court of law.

Betrayal of the Promise: How South Africa is Being Stolen

May 2017

State Capacity Research Project

Convenor: Mark Swilling – Direct URL:

Executive Summary

This report suggests South Africa has experienced a silent coup that has removed the ANC from its place as the primary force for transformation in society. Four public moments define this new era: the Marikana Massacre on 16 August 2012; the landing of the Gupta plane at Waterkloof Air Base in April 2013; the attempted bribing of former Deputy Minister of Finance Mcebisi Jonas to sell the National Treasury to the shadow state in late 2015; and the Cabinet reshuffle in March 2017. Resistance and capture is what South African politics is about today.

Commentators, opposition groups and ordinary South Africans underestimate Jacob Zuma, not simply because he is more brazen, wily and brutal than they expect, but because they reduce him to caricature. They conceive of Zuma and his allies as a criminal network that has captured the state. This approach, which is unfortunately dominant, obscures the existence of a political project at work to repurpose state institutions to suit a constellation of rent-seeking networks that have been constructed and now span the symbiotic relationship between the constitutional and shadow state. This is akin to a silent coup. This report documents how the Zuma-centred power elite has built and consolidated this symbiotic relationship between the constitutional state and the shadow state in order to execute the silent coup.

At the nexus of this symbiosis are a handful of the same individuals and companies connected in one way or another to the Gupta- Zuma family network. The way that this is strategically coordinated constitutes the shadow state. Well-placed individuals located in the most significant centres of state power (in government, SOEs and the bureaucracy) make decisions about what happens within the constitutional state. Those, like Jonas, Vytjie Mentor, Pravin Gordhan and Themba Maseko who resist this agenda in one way or another are systematically removed, redeployed to other lucrative positions to silence them, placed under tremendous pressure, or hounded out by trumped up internal and/or external charges and dubious intelligence reports. This is a world where deniability is valued, culpability is distributed (though indispensability is not taken for granted) and where trust is maintained through mutually binding fear. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the shadow state is not only the space for extra-legal action facilitated by criminal networks, but also where key security and intelligence actions are coordinated.

It has been argued in this report that from about 2012 onwards the Zuma-centred power elite has sought to centralise the control of rents to eliminate lower-order, rentseeking competitors. The ultimate prize was control of the National Treasury to gain control of the Financial Intelligence Centre (which monitors illicit flows of finance), the Chief Procurement Office (which regulates procurement and activates legal action against corrupt practices), the Public Investment Corporation (the second largest shareholder on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange), the boards of key development finance institutions, and the guarantee system (which is not only essential for making the nuclear deal work, but with a guarantee state entities can borrow from private lenders/banks without parliamentary oversight). The cabinet reshuffle in March 2017 has made possible this final control of the National Treasury.

The capture of the National Treasury, however, followed five other processes that consolidated power and centralised control of rents:

  • The ballooning of the public service to create a compliant politically-dependent, bureaucratic class.
  • The sacking of the ‘good cops’ from the police and intelligence services and their replacement with loyalists prepared to cover up illegal rent seeking (with some forced reversals, for example, Robert McBride)
  • Redirection of the procurement-spend of the SOEs to favour those prepared to deal with the Gupta-Zuma network of brokers (those who are not, do not get contracts, even if they have better BEE credentials and offer lower prices).
  • Subversion of Executive Authority that has resulted in the hollowing out of the Cabinet as South Africa’s pre-eminent decision-making body and in its place the establishment of a set of ‘kitchen cabinets’ of informally constituted elites who compete for favour with Zuma in an unstable crisis-prone complex network;
  • The consolidation of the Premier League as a network of party bosses, to ensure that the National Executive Committee of the ANC remains loyal.

At the epicentre of the political project mounted by the Zuma-centred power elite is a rhetorical commitment to radical economic transformation. Unsurprisingly, although the ANC’s official policy documents on radical economic transformation encompass a broad range of interventions that take the National Development Plan as a point of departure, the Zuma-centred power elite emphasises the role of the SOEs, particularly their procurement spend. Eskom and Transnet, in turn, are the primary vehicles for managing state capture, large-scale looting of state resources and the consolidation of a transnationally managed financial resource base, which in turn creates a continuous source of self-enrichment and funding for the power elite and their patronage network.

In short, instead of becoming a new economic policy consensus, radical economic transformation has been turned into an ideological football kicked around by factional political players within the ANC and the Alliance in general who use the term to mean very different things.

The alternative is a new economic consensus. Since 1994 there has never been an economic policy framework that has enjoyed the full support of all stakeholders. A new economic consensus would be a detailed programme of radical economic transformation achieved within the constitutional, legislative and governance framework. The focus must be a wide range of employment- and livelihood-creating investments rather than a few ‘big and shiny’ capital-intensive infrastructure projects that reinforce the mineral-energy-complex. For this to happen, an atmosphere of trust conducive for innovation- oriented partnerships between business, government, knowledge institutions and social enterprises is urgently required. None of this is achievable, however, until the shadow state is dismantled and the key perpetrators of state capture brought to justice.

Jacob Zuma comes to power

Jacob Zuma was elected ANC President at the Polokwane conference in December 2007. In July 2008, Duduzile Zuma, his 26-year-old daughter, was asked to join the board of the Gupta technology company Sahara Computers (she resigned in 2010). Duduzane, her twin brother, was also taken under the Gupta’s wing and joined Sahara, though the date is unclear. The twins were two of the five children of Jacob Zuma and Kate Mantsho, who committed suicide in 2000. Zuma is reported as having always felt particularly concerned about their wellbeing.

Origins of the nuclear deal

In May 2010, … the media broke a story that Gupta-owned company Oakbay Resources and Energy, together with minority shareholders, including Duduzane Zuma’s BEE vehicle, Mabengela Investments, was the buyer of Toronto-listed Uranium One’s Dominion mine in Klerksdorp. Oakbay paid $37 million (about R280 million). Mabengela Investments is reportedly jointly controlled by Duduzane Zuma and Gupta brother Rajesh (Mabengela is named after a hill overlooking President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead).

At the time that Oakbay bought Dominion – later named Shiva Uranium – media speculation was rife that President Zuma had intervened a month earlier, in April 2010, to extend the tenure of then Public Investment Corporation head Brian Molefe to facilitate negotiations towards a large investment in the project. The Presidency denied these allegations, saying that the president’s son was, “a businessman in his own right”, and did not need his father’s help.

The interesting thing was that Dominion had been on ‘care and maintenance’ since 2008 with Uranium One chief executive Jean Nortier saying: “We had to close that chapter; we certainly weren’t going to try to bring Dominion back into production — it certainly was going to require too much capital.” Bringing Dominion back to full production was projected to cost far more than the $37 million purchase price, according to media reports. …

… in retrospect, the Zuma power elite had their sights set on a large-scale nuclear programme that would create a new and lucrative market for uranium. Molefe, then CEO of the Public Investment Corporation, seems to enter the story at this point in what may have been his first act to ingratiate himself with the Zuma group after being identified for so long as an ‘Mbeki man’. Although he denied having a hand in the Gupta’s Uranium One deal, there seem to be too many unexplainable coincidences.

The timing is indicative. According to amaBhungane, Molefe’s last day as CEO of the Public Investment Corporation would have been 12 April 2010, two days before the Dominion transaction was closed.

However, his contract was extended for three months, to the reported irritation of senior ANC and alliance officials. At the time, the Sunday Times reported that Jacob Zuma was “understood to have phoned a senior official in the finance ministry to ask that Molefe remain in the job.”

According to amaBhungane, company registration documents show that Atul Gupta and Duduzane Zuma took over as directors of the Dominion holding company on 14 April, the day the sale was finalised. If, as alleged in media reports, Molefe was involved in negotiations to commit Public Investment Corporation funding, his departure at that crucial time might have compromised the negotiations. The investment committee rejected the deal as being too risky, but the Industrial Development Corporation provided the loan.

Guptas go transnational

In December 2014, it emerged that the Guptas allegedly make use of the global financial system in what law enforcement circles refer to as ‘shadow transnationalism’ – an essential element for brokers facilitating large-scale criminality to “navigate resources to international clearing hubs where they enter the legitimate trade and accrue value to the members of the network”. 61 The deal involved the listing of Oakbay and a R100 million Industrial Development Corporation loan, given to the company in 2010 to buy the Shiva Uranium mine.

On 28 November 2014, the Gupta company, Oakbay Resources and Energy, listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. Atul Gupta, his wife Chetali, brother Rajesh and sisterin -law Arti own about 80 percent of the company. Oakbay’s main asset, and the main driver of its value, was its subsidiary Shiva Uranium.

But, according to an amaBhungane investigation and documents observed by this group of researchers, the Guptas appear to have significantly inflated Oakbay’s market value above the inherent value given at the time, with the help of a Gupta associate in Singapore. This allowed them to pay off their Industrial Development Corporation loan, but it also meant that the state- owned entity lost out when the Oakbay share price market corrected. At the time that this story broke, Oakbay’s financials showed that it had not been able to maintain profitability at Shiva. According to the 2010 purchase agreement for the mine, the entire debt should have been repaid by April 2013. But Oakbay’s financials stated that, by the end February 2014, only R20 million had been paid and the debt with interest had grown to R399 million.

In June 2014, after negotiations with the Industrial Development Corporation, they agreed to restructure the debt, including a new repayment schedule that would end in 2018. As part of this agreement, and as Oakbay’s pre-listing statement showed, the Industrial Development Corporation would take a small stake (about 3.6 percent) in Oakbay in lieu of the debt. Oakbay’s interim financials at the end of August 2014 gave the company a net asset value of about R4.6 billion, which translated into an asset value of R5.74 a share, according to amaBhungane. 62 This dropped to R4.84 a share once substituted with the lower value put on them by a valuer appointed as part of the listing requirements.

Despite this, Oakbay listed at R10 a share, which was nearly double the underlying asset value. This was significant, because it was this R10 ‘market’ value, minus a 10 percent discount, at which the Industrial Development Corporation got shares (its 3.6 percent) in lieu of Oakbay’s outstanding debt. When compared with the underlying value of R5.74 provided by Oakbay’s own financials, or to the adjusted R4.84, the Industrial Development Corporation ultimately gave Oakbay a discount of between R93- R119 million (essentially cash in hand to clear their debt – an ultimate loss to South Africa given that these are state resources).

The question was how Oakbay allegedly inflated its market value. The answer, according to an AmaBhungane investigation, lay in Singapore, where a company called Unlimited Electronic & Computers paid R10 a share in a private placement shortly before the listing acquiring 2.3 percent of the company. Unlimited Electronic & Computers, according to amaBhungane, is owned by Kamran ‘Raj’ Radiowala, who has been associated with the Guptas since about 2006. Online company registration data cited by amaBhungane has him being appointed managing director of an Indian electronics distribution company, SES Technologies, in 2007. SES was co-owned by the Guptas’ South African business Sahara Computers, and its board included Ashu Chawla, one of their associates in South Africa. The SES chief operating officer for some time was George van der Merwe, who held the same position at Sahara and who was the former CEO of Oakbay.

… and move their money offshore

In July 2015, the first detailed analysis of how the Guptas move the proceeds of their business activities was presented by amaBhungane. Their operation centres on a Gupta-controlled shell company called Homix. Shell companies, by virtue of the ownership anonymity that they provide, are classic vehicles for money laundering and other illicit financial activity. According to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network:

The term ‘shell company’ generally refers to limited liability companies and other business entities with no significant assets or ongoing business activities. Shell companies – formed for both legitimate and illicit purposes – typically have no physical presence other than a mailing address, employ no one, and produce little to no independent economic value.

Between 2014 and 2015, Homix moved R166 million through its accounts, primarily from five companies. As is characteristic of shell companies, Homix has no discernible office infrastructure or staff commensurate with a company processing such large sums of money, according to amaBhungane, which visited its premises. Bank records obtained by amaBhungane, and other bank records observed by this group of researchers, show that as the money came into the Homix bank account, it immediately went straight out again, to an equally obscure entity called Bapu Trading.

This pattern displays the three classic money laundering characteristics of placement, layering and integration where placement is the movement of cash from its source (the five companies), followed by placing it into circulation (layering) through, among other mechanisms, financial institutions and other businesses (for example Homix), and finally integration, the purpose of which is to make it more difficult to detect and uncover by law enforcement.

Enter Mosebenzi Zwane

On 22 September 2015, President Zuma – reportedly to the surprise of even top members of the ANC – announced that he would fill a six-month-old vacancy in his Cabinet with the relatively unknown Mosebenzi Zwane, who he appointed to the critically important mineral resources portfolio. Zwane’s appointment as a minister escalated him from a backbencher member of parliament who previously had been in the Free State provincial government. He had no experience in mining or in a national portfolio position. His origins in the Free State suggest that this was a move orchestrated by Ace Magashule.

In April 2016, seven months after Zwane’s appointment, Gupta-owned Tegeta Exploration & Resources acquired Optimum coal mine from Glencore. Duduzane Zuma owns 12.8 percent of Tegeta. Various members of the Gupta family own 36 percent of the company, Gupta associate Salim Essa owns 21.5 percent and just over 20 percent is owned by two off-shore companies registered in the United Arab Emirates, for which ownership details are unavailable.

The Guptas bought Optimum from Glencore for R2.2 billion. The purchase was, however, riddled with allegations of political interference and bias towards sectional business interests, namely the Guptas. It is now widely accepted that Eskom prejudiced Glencore, by using the full might of the law, to force Optimum into business rescue to enable Tegeta to buy the company on highly favourable terms. Former Public Protector Madonsela’s State of Capture report found that Eskom may have repeatedly broken the law to accommodate Tegeta. …

In December 2015, while Van der Riet and Ramavhona were still on suspension and Tegeta’s purchase of Optimum was being finalised, Tegeta was granted a short-term contract to supply 255 000 tons of coal a month to another power station, Arnot. It subsequently emerged that the award of this contract resulted in Eskom extending Tegeta a R586 million (ex VAT) upfront payment for this coal supply, six hours after the Gupta company’s banks refused them a R600 million loan to close the Optimum Coal deal. The State of Capture report concluded that the payment was likely pushed through to plug a R600 million hole in the R2 billion the Guptas needed to buy Optimum. At a special late-night tender committee meeting on 11 April 2016, Eskom executives, led by Brian Molefe, agreed to transfer R586 million to Tegeta – money that was then used, two days later, to help pay for the purchase of Optimum.

The draft findings of a year-long National Treasury investigation concluded in April 2017 that the prepayment should be treated as a loan. According to the investigation: “The advance payment of R659 558 079 should be regarded as a loan because there is no evidence that Optimum Coal Mine or Tegeta Exploration and Resources used the funds to procure any equipment for increasing the volume of the coal or further processing the coal,” adding that the interest should be recovered from Tegeta or the Eskom officials involved. The draft report also recommended that a forensic audit firm be appointed to “investigate why Eskom gave and continues to give preferential treatment to Tegeta … by not enforcing key conditions of the Coal Supply Agreement”.

In August 2016, Eskom acting CEO Matshela Koko, gave Tegeta a R7 billion coal contract without a tender, ignoring warnings from the National Treasury that such a contract could be irregular. Under the contract, Tegeta’s Koornfontein Mines would deliver 2.4 million tons of coal a year at R414 a ton to Komati power station, 40 kilometres south of Middelburg. The contract was due to run until August 2023. However, two months after the seven-year contract was signed, Eskom’s board decided to mothball the power station. This means that Eskom will either need to buy Tegeta out of the contract or assume the cost of transporting the coal to another power station, at least 50 kilometres away.

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AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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USA/Africa: “Pro-Death” Health Agendas Advance
| May 30, 2017 | 8:36 pm | Africa, Health Care | No comments

USA/Africa: “Pro-Death” Health Agendas Advance

AfricaFocus Bulletin May 30, 2017 (170530) (Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor’s Note

“3.3 million more abortions. 15,000 more mothers dying. 8 million more unplanned pregnancies. … Those grim numbers from the Guttmacher Institute show the potential real-world impact of the Trump administration’s unprecedented proposed cuts to global family planning efforts; the budget the White House released Tuesday would basically eliminate those programs.” – Sarah Wildman, Vox, May 24, 2017

The headline (my wording) may seem alarmist, but detailed examination of the health agendas being advanced by the Trump administration and right-wing Republicans leaves little doubt of the consequences should they be fully implemented. There will indeed likely be millions of deaths resulting both from the House domestic healthcare plan, which would remove 23 million from health insurance, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and from the provisions for global health in the administration’s new budget. That would eliminate funding for family planning, threaten funding for HIV/AIDS and famine relief, and impose massive cuts on institutions such as the Center for Disease Control which are vital to protection against epidemics.

One may withhold judgment on the motivations of the policymakers, including the relative weight of ideology, indifference, lack of human empathy, and greed. And most observers say the full package is unlikely to survive Congressional scrutiny, even among many Republicans. But much of the damage, such as the Global Gag Rule cited above, comes from executive decisions already being implemented, such as the new version of the Global Gag Rule. The proponents of this agenda, it is clear by their explicit statements, reject the universal right to health, and give little or no value to the lives of those who are not wealthy and white.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin continues two summary articles on the Global Gag Rule and the Trump budget, as well as a reflection on the pressures facing progressive health advocates stretched by the attacks on both domestic and global health.

A few additional short articles highlight the threat:

Siobhán O’Grady, “How teen moms in Nigeria could wind up hurt by Trump’s U.N. Cuts,” Washington Post, May 5, 2017 Documents effects of cutting support for the U.N. Population Fund.

Los Angeles Times, “Editorial: Trump’s new global gag rule will devastate healthcare in poor countries,” Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2017 “The rule was bad enough in its earlier form [under previous Republican administrations], when it barred aid to family planning organizations that offered abortion or abortion counseling. … But the new Trump administration incarnation of the rule is far more expansive. … it will now cover approximately $8.8 billion in funds given out to healthcare providers of all sorts.”

Nurith Aizenman, “Trump’s Proposed Budget Would Cut $2.2 billion from Global Health Spending,” National Public Radio, May 25, 2017 “Overall, Trump would cut the annual global health budget by about 26 percent, or around $2.2 billion in the 2018 fiscal year that begins October 1, decreasing it from about $8.7 billion in the current fiscal year budget to less than $6.5 billion.”

Emily Baumgaertner, “Proposed Cuts Alarm Bioterrorism Experts,” New York Times, May 29, 2017 The CDC’s budget would be cut by 17%. At the NIH, a program training foreign medical professionals in pandemic response would be eliminated.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on health, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor’s note+++++++++++++++++

The Trump global gag rule: an attack on US family planning and global health aid

By Ann M. Starrs, Guttmacher Institute

The Lancet, February 4, 2017 – Direct URL:

On Jan 23, 2017, on his fourth day in office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order imposing the global gag rule, an anti-abortion policy that under other conservative presidential administrations has caused serious disruptions to US overseas family planning efforts. Alarmingly, Trump’s order goes even further than in the past, with potentially devastating effect.

Credit for graphic: Human Rights Watch       

The global gag rule, also known as the Mexico City policy, was devised in 1984 by the administration of Ronald Reagan to impose a draconian set of anti-abortion rules on US overseas family planning programmes. This policy banned US family planning funds from going to foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that provide abortion services, counselling, or referrals, or advocate for liberalisation of their country’s abortion laws–even if they use non-US government funds for these activities. In 1984, and every time the global gag rule has been imposed since then, foreign governments were exempt for diplomatic reasons, as were US-based NGOs on constitutional grounds.

To be clear, legislation was already in place in 1984, and is still in place now, that bans the use of US funds under the Foreign Assistance Act from paying “for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning”. But for anti-abortion activists this Helms Amendment, passed in 1973, did not go far enough; they wanted to limit any activity that could possibly enable or promote abortion. Hence, the global gag rule.

Under Trump’s order, the gag rule now applies not only to US bilateral family planning assistance (US$575 million for fiscal year 2016), but also to all “global health assistance furnished by all departments or agencies”–encompassing an estimated $9.5 billion in foreign aid. Foreign NGOs that receive US funding to work on a broad range of health programmes in about 60 low-income and middle-income countries–including on HIV/AIDS, the Zika virus, malaria, tuberculosis, nutrition, and maternal and child health, among others–will potentially be subject to the same ideological restrictions that have hampered family planning aid at points in the past. Thus, President Trump’s version of the global gag rule represents a wider attack on global health aid writ large.

Adding to the widespread concern among US government agencies, global health NGOs, and advocates is the Trump administration’s failure to provide any guidance on the interpretation or application of the new policy.

Those details may emerge in the coming weeks and months. But we already know that, when last in effect, the gag rule crippled family planning programmes. Many foreign NGOs, as a matter of principle and out of dedication to the patients they serve, refused to let the US Government muzzle their abortion advocacy efforts or dictate what services or counselling they provided using their non-US funds. These health providers were forced to reduce staff and services, or even shut clinics. As a result, many thousands of women no longer had access to family planning and reproductive health services from these clinics–sometimes the only provider of such services in the local community. Various actors, including the governments of Canada and the Netherlands, are mobilising to compensate for at least some of the damage that will be done by the gag rule. But the US is the largest funder of global health programmes worldwide, and the disruption this aid effort will suffer is massive.

Moreover, there is no evidence that the global gag rule has ever resulted in its stated aim of reducing abortion. The first study to measure the effect of the gag rule showed that this policy could actually have resulted in an increase in abortions. Another study assessed the gag rule in Ghana and found that because of declines in the availability of contraceptive services, both fertility and abortion rates were higher during the gag rule years than during non-gag rule years in rural and poor populations. This is consistent with anecdotal data that the gag rule’s main effect has been to reduce women’s access to quality contraceptive services, thereby increasing the probability of unintended pregnancy and making recourse to abortion more likely.

But the harmful effects of Trump’s order are likely be even greater. NGOs in lowincome settings often provide integrated health services; for instance, they offer patients contraceptive care, HIV prevention or treatment, maternal health screenings, immunisations, and information on safe abortion care all under one roof. By expanding the gag rule to the full scope of US global health aid, hundreds more national and local NGOs will be forced to choose between drastic funding cuts (if they decline to sign the gag rule) or denying their patients the information and services that are their right (if they sign, and can no longer provide or discuss abortion). Millions of women living in low-resource settings may now be unable to obtain the care they need, when they need it.

The unprecedented scope of the Trump global gag rule validates the fears of many observers: reproductive health and rights worldwide will face a sustained attack in the next 4 years of the Trump Administration. This assault will almost certainly include defunding the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), as well as potentially drastic cuts to US overseas family planning aid. It will be mirrored domestically by efforts to restrict abortion access–for instance, by banning all private and public insurance coverage of abortion or prohibiting the most commonly used method for second-trimester procedures–and to shred the nation’s family planning safety net, including by defunding Planned Parenthood.

It is becoming clearer with each Trump executive order that not only reproductive health but also global health programmes and overall foreign assistance supported by the US Government are in grave jeopardy, as indicated by President Trump’s repeated promises to “put America first”. The social conservatives driving this agenda–who now control the US Presidency and both Houses of Congress–are showing complete disregard for the millions of women, men, and children who will suffer the consequences, intended or not, of these regressive policies.

Trump’s budget eliminates US funding for global family planning and famine relief

by Sarah Wildman

Vox, May 24, 2017 – Direct URL:

3.3 million more abortions. 15,000 more mothers dying. 8 million more unplanned pregnancies. Up to 26 million fewer women and couples acquiring contraception and family planning advice.

Those grim numbers from the Guttmacher Institute show the potential real-world impact of the Trump administration’s unprecedented proposed cuts to global family planning efforts; the budget the White House released Tuesday would basically eliminate those programs.

It also calls for gutting a key US famine relief program, slashing half the budget for the USAID’s internal disaster relief organization, and cutting $222 million from funds allocated to fight HIV, AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. The justification listed in the budget is a simple hope for others to fill the shortfall:

The United States has been the largest donor by far to global HIV/AIDS efforts, providing over half of global donor funding in recent years to combat this epidemic. The Budget reduces funding for several global health programs, including HIV/AIDS, with the expectation that other donors can and should increase their commitments to these causes.

If Congress were to agree to those cuts (and that’s a big if), advocates say the global impact of America’s abrupt departure from world health and disaster relief would be immediate — and devastating.

“The family planning elimination is the headline here,” said Rachel Silverman, a senior policy analyst on global health at the Center for Global Development. “It will have the most impact on people’s lives.”

But Trump’s proposed cuts to food aid and disaster relief would also deal a major blow to some of the world’s neediest and most desperate. Marilyn Shapley, a top official at the aid group Mercy Corps, said some 70 million people need emergency food assistance, while 20 million more are in famine-like conditions.

“This is going to take away food assistance from 33 million people in a year when famine risk is higher than in decades,” she said in an interview. “Before today I wouldn’t have thought it possible.”

Funding family planning actually makes economic, not just moral, sense

This isn’t the first time the Trump administration has taken aim at global family planning and women’s health.

In January, Trump reinstated the “Mexico City Policy,” also known as the global gag rule, which literally bars family planning providers from mentioning abortion in their work. (The United States has long banned funds for abortion services.)

The policy is one that changes depending on the party of the president in power. Obama immediately rescinded the policy when he moved into the White House; Trump, like other Republican presidents before him, immediately reinstated it when he came into office. As I wrote in January, the policy has traditionally limited the ability of global family planning providers to give women and families comprehensive care if in any aspect of their work they recommend, discuss, or even mention abortions to clients, let alone provide abortion services.

But Trump went further than his predecessors. Previous Republican administrations limited the policy to family planning providers; the Trump administration extended the gag rule to all global health providers. That meant health care providers working on everything from maternal and child health to malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and vaccinations were now at risk of losing all US funding if they discussed abortion in their work.

The NGO PAI estimated that the extended gag rule would affect about 15 times more US funding than the gag rule had in the past. In mid-May, when the new rule went into effect, Suzanne Ehlers, president and CEO of PAI, said Trump’s move would do “unspeakable damage to integrated care efforts.”

That’s a problem. With integrated care, a woman can come to a single clinic for, say, vaccines for her children, then see a physician about her own contraceptive needs, and finally seek advice, or refill prescriptions. In other words, she can meet all her family’s health care needs in one spot. For families traveling long distances, an all-in-one clinic makes far more sense than one clinic for maternal health and another for child care and still another for other medical services.

The Trump administration spent the first quarter of 2017 signaling plans to undermine that sort of integrated care by reinstating the gag rule and beginning to reduce US funding for maternal and infant health around the world.

In April, the administration announced it would strip the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA), which works on reproductive health, family planning, HIV/AIDS, and infant and maternal mortality in more than 150 countries, of all US funding. The putative reason was a specious one.

“This decision is based on the erroneous claim that UNFPA ‘supports, or participates in the management of, a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization’ in China,” a statement on the UNFPA website read. “UNFPA refutes this claim, as all of its work promotes the human rights of individuals and couples to make their own decisions, free of coercion or discrimination.”

A State Department memo obtained by the Associated Press found no evidence that US money had supported forced abortion or sterilization in China.

The decision costs the UNFPA $32.5 million in funding from the 2017 budget; the United States was the fourth-largest donor to the organization.

The new budget would hit global health even harder.

Silverman noted that there’s a “dissonance” between White House messages on women and families. Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, has claimed to be championing the idea of women’e economic empowerment. That sort of program, Silverman says, would be completely undermined by stripping global family planning from the budget.

“There is a lot of evidence that family planning contributes to women’s empowerment,” says Silverman, ticking off a list of things that planning, delaying, and spacing pregnancies allow women to do — like receiving an education, or even simply advancing at work. “When women have control over fertility, they have control over their lives.”

Silverman points out that USAID directly funds 28 percent of contraceptives and distribution in the developing world.

“If you cross-reference that with the number of women using contraceptives in those countries — a back-of-envelope calculation — that suggests that 10 million women are directly relying on USAID for contraceptives,” she said, adding that enormous numbers of women will “see a major disruption in their lives if this goes through and other donors don’t step up in a major way.”

But there aren’t other donors looking to step in. Jonathan Rucks, who runs PAI’s advocacy efforts, says there is no other donor government that can make up the shortfall, and even major private family foundations, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, simply cannot replace the US on family planning. In February, Bill Gates told the Guardian that Trump’s proposed reinstatement of the global gag rule could “create a void that even a foundation like ours can’t fill.”

“If you are cutting maternal health funding, then you don’t care about survival of women,” Rucks says bluntly. “We are also going to be really frank and say this is not pro-life. This is undermining all your pro-life credentials.”

Global Health in the Trump Era: Reflections on the Backlash

by Michelle Morse

Praxis, May 17, 2017

Over the past thirty years, American medicine has witnessed an unprecedented expansion in global health engagement amongst its trainees and faculty, partially, if not largely, fueled by the health care injustices lived so dramatically by patients in resource-limited countries around the world during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Initially seen as disruptive, the interventions in the health sectors of Global South countries by American health professionals were eventually accepted as essential acts in the movement towards achieving global health equity. As America experiences the Trump era, endless questions have arisen amongst global health professionals about the implications of Trump’s “America first” platform on global health. Will Trump’s nationalist agenda eliminate funding for life-saving global health programs, cause progressive health professionals engaged in global health to make a reactionary turn towards the fire at home, and even force global health practitioners to more closely examine their own prejudices?

It is no secret that American physicians leading the guard in global health tend to be part of the political left. Global health tends to attract left leaning physicians because of the global health movement’s belief that every human being has a right to receive high quality health care. Asserting that Global North countries have a responsibility to contribute towards strengthening health care systems in the Global South (a redistribution of resources, of sorts), global health offers the opportunity to practically address urgent health care access inequities in the Global South. Considering these principles, global health professionals like myself are deeply frustrated by the Trump administration’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut global health spending at USAID and other similar programs. Though many of us are rightfully drawn towards activism in the USA to resist these moves by the new administration, I worry that the health and health systems of the Global South will suffer if the majority of global health professionals shift to focus domestically without continuing their engagement in global health.

While some would say that the current neoliberal structure of development aid is already ineffective, especially since so many of the aid resources are actually directed back to the country where the aid comes from, what would it mean if global health funding was eliminated, and American global health professionals suddenly focused exclusively on domestic health? Would it allow Global South countries to assume stronger leadership, decision-making, and self-directed problem solving? Or would it mean that Global South communities would be even more deprived of much needed resources and health care access? Post-earthquake Haiti, where I have worked for seven years and lived for two of those years, is one compelling example of both the peril and the potential of aid. Of the $8 billion US funds provided in aid after the earthquake, less than 1% went to the Haitian government who was ultimately responsible for rebuilding the country. Yet, as appalling as this statistic is, it does not adequately describe the individual impact of short- and long-term global health engagement by American health professionals in response to the earthquake. Take EqualHealth for example, the organization I co-founded. EqualHealth is a nongovernmental organization focused on bringing light to the socially determined root causes of illness and creating equity in opportunity for Haitian health professionals whose talent and vision are often overshadowed by negative media narratives about Haiti, weaknesses in the Haitian public health system, and limited opportunities for professional development. All things considered, the reality is that countries like Haiti rely on the shrinking aid from global health programs such as PEPFAR to keep their health systems running despite fluctuations in attention from the donor world. Where Global South countries would find themselves without USAID, or partnership with Global North health professionals, or other mechanisms to ensure more adequate resources for pressing health concerns is as predictable as where Americans, who rely on the Affordable Care Act for health insurance, will find themselves when it is repealed and replaced with a market-based solution.

What I have witnessed in my academic institution is an exciting and growing interest amongst trainees in building infrastructure to resist the new administration’s domestic health care and civil rights policies. To mount a harmonized response, they are looking into establishing indivisible chapters and partnerships with community based organizations, learning and using direct action methods such as bird-dogging, non-violent protest, and holding teach-ins on community organizing. These are often the very same trainees that are also interested in global health. Though many of them are considering careers in global health, opportunities for long-term global health engagement with clear career paths and mentorship are often limited, and may now become even more limited given the policies of the new American administration. On the other hand, recent significant increases in donations to organizations like Planned Parenthood could mean new opportunities for engagement for these trainees, shaping careers focused on domestic health care. This is occurring at a time when structural competency and social medicine are emerging as key areas of focus in medical school and residency curricula, and trainees are being encouraged to engage in activism as a professional obligation rather than aspiration. Health professionals often hesitated to engage in activism as it was not an explicit part of their training, and opportunities to act were difficult to identify, but these barriers seem to be evaporating under the new administration.

In response to mounting evidence documenting how health care provider prejudice impacts health, American medical schools are also developing competencies in which trainees and faculty alike are encouraged to reflect on their personal biases. These competencies are even more relevant now as the policies of this new administration threaten the rights and livelihoods of people of color, women, Muslims, and immigrants. Efforts to establish global health competencies, while laudable, have often been silent on addressing the issues of racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice amongst global health professionals. The social and cultural power and privilege clash that occurs when predominantly white global health professionals from Global North countries descend on countries in the Global South to work hand in hand with local health professionals who are predominantly people of color is a tinderbox for racism and prejudice in all its forms. The global health movement can learn from the new light being shed on the old problem of racism, as a result of the racist policies and messages coming from the Trump administration in its first 100 days. The global health movement needs to take the necessary steps to explicitly address racism and other forms of prejudice amongst its members, and ask honest questions about why more Americans of color are not currently a part of it. The far too common assumption that being left leaning, progressive, or engaged in global health is incompatible with being racist is simply incorrect.

As communities and countries in the Global South continue to suffer the consequences of neoliberalism-induced fragile health systems, some global health professionals may decide to deepen their engagement outside the USA, attempting to flee the nationalist, racist, and sexist trends of the new administration by moving and working abroad. Other global health professionals may decide to engage domestically to resist the actions of the new administration, seeing the battle for health care access and civil rights at home as more urgent and compelling. Ideally, all progressive global health professionals, whether choosing a domestic or globally focused path, will begin to address their own prejudices in new action-oriented ways.

There is a delicate but important balance between advocating for ongoing American engagement in addressing global health inequities, while also addressing domestic health care threats. One shouldn’t be prioritized over the other or at the expense of the other, as they represent two parts of the same global battle for health as a human right that culminated in the Alma Ata Declaration, lost its way, and is reemerging. Perhaps the real test will lie in America’s response under the Trump administration to the next Ebola, the next Zika, or the next HIV/AIDS epidemic.

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AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at Please write to this address to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about reposted material, please contact directly the original source mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see

Nigeria: Corruption Undercuts Boko Haram Fight
| May 24, 2017 | 8:14 pm | Africa | No comments

AfricaFocus Bulletin May 24, 2017 (170524) (Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor’s Note

“Nigeria’s corrupt elites have profited from conflict; with oil prices at a record low, defence has provided new and lucrative opportunities for the country’s corrupt kleptocrats. Former military chiefs have stolen as much as US $15 billion – a sum equivalent to half of Nigeria’s foreign currency reserves – through fraudulent arms procurement deals.” – new report on “Weaponizing Tranparency”

This new report, excerpted in this AfricaFocus Bulletin, was released earlier this month by Transparency International, Transparency International Defence and Security and the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre in Nigeria: Entitled “Weaponising Transparency: Defence Procurement Reform as a Counterterrorism Strategy in Nigeria,” it stresses that considerable progress has been made by the Buhari administration in its campaign against corruption, but that corruption is still pervasive, not least in the military. This corruption, the report argues, is one of the major impediments to an effective counterinsurgency campaign against Boko Haram.

Both topics, corruption and Boko Haram, are frequent themes of both national and international coverage of Nigeria. But this report is distinctive in closely linking the two issues, and in presenting specific proposals to strengthening anti-corruption efforts aimed at arms procurement in particular.

For a press release on the report, launched on May 18 in Abuja, visit

Notably, the report has received wide press coverage in Nigeria, but little international attention and virtually no international news coverage, although it includes the point that Nigeria’s international partners share the blame for enabling such corruption.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Nigeria, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor’s note+++++++++++++++++

Weaponising Transparency: Defence Procurement Reform as a Counterterrorism Strategy in Nigeria

In Partnership With

Transparency International (TI;

Transparency International Defence and Security (TI-DS;

Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC;

May 2017

[full report, with other related coverage, available at; Direct link to full report:]

Executive Summary

Defence sector corruption is a major threat to Nigeria’s internal security and political stability. Largely unaddressed, it has weakened Nigerian counterterrorism capacity whilst strengthening Boko Haram.

Nigeria’s corrupt elites have profited from conflict; with oil prices at a record low, defence has provided new and lucrative opportunities for the country’s corrupt kleptocrats. Former military chiefs have stolen as much as US $15 billion – a sum equivalent to half of Nigeria’s foreign currency reserves – through fraudulent arms procurement deals. Defence sector corruption in Nigeria has enabled the political elite to accumulate and distribute political patronage. Longstanding military exceptionalism meanwhile, has justified weak and compromised oversight of securityrelated spending and excessive secrecy.

By far the most significant corruption opportunities are those exploited through inflating procurement contract values and creating “phantom” defence contracts. Such contracts are used as a vehicle for money laundering: facilitated via weak or corrupted Nigerian banks, illicit financial flows are often hidden in property in the UK, United States, South Africa and Dubai.

President Buhari’s government has taken significant steps to identify and prosecute individuals involved in security sector corruption. And the campaign to focus international attention on returning stolen assets has been powerful. But however effective these efforts are, they will not be enough to win the long fight against corruption. The reality is that Nigeria’s attempt to secure the repatriation of large quantities of illicitly laundered assets from places like the UK makes a better media headline than it does anti-corruption strategy.

With the President’s first term ending in 2019, the window of opportunity for far reaching change is closing rapidly. Only a holistic reform agenda can deliver the deep, systemic changes and improvements in transparency and accountability needed to prevent the next US $15 billion quietly leaving Nigeria through the back door.

Ex-Air Force Chief of Staff Adesola Amosu was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in 2016, and his trial is still ongoing. Photo credit: Premium Times


Violent extremism thrives as a result of exploitative governing structures and state predation. Terrorist groups motivated by radical political and religious ideologies have destabilized Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Somalia, Nigeria, and other weak or misgoverned states. These groups have been able to co-opt disaffected populations by leveraging popular antipathy toward corrupt governments, often by presenting their own radical agenda as having greater moral value and popular legitimacy than the secular governments they seek to destroy. Predation by these regimes – whether it takes the form of elite corruption, security force abuses, or ethno-religious chauvinism – serves to validate extremist narratives about the immorality of secular governance.

The Boko Haram insurgency is now entering its fifteenth year, fed by the notorious levels of public sector corruption that have eroded the Nigerian state’s legitimacy. Politicians compete for private control of national coffers, rather than delivering public goods based on the growing needs of Nigeria’s booming population – on track to be the third largest in the world by 2050. Yet for the vast majority, corruption remains endemic and systemic, warping the social contract between the government and citizens. Patronage – not performance – is the ticket to advancement.

Securing a prosperous future for nearly 180 million people will be tough. The continent’s largest economy has, since 1970, suffered from the largest per annum illicit financial outflow on the continent as corrupt actors seek to exploit banking loopholes to launder and hide their unlawful assets. An estimated US $217.7bn was illegally transferred out of Nigeria between 1970 and 2008. The same study estimated that illegal transfers from the African continent have tripled since 2001.

Across the board, public sector corruption is undermining the state’s ability to address Nigeria’s many challenges: socioeconomic underdevelopment, unemployment and insecurity. Nowhere is the failure of governance more evident than in the northeast, a region that was already impoverished even before it was devastated by Boko Haram. The conflict has displaced over 2.6 million people and killed as many as 50,000 since May 2011.

Corruption has been particularly destructive in the defence and security sector. Overlooked in peacetime, defence sector corruption has devastating real world consequences when conflict flares. With lower oil prices, corrupt elites have increasingly exploited alternative illicit revenue streams. The secret nature of defence and security budgets has made them the easiest and most lucrative opportunity to exploit. While Boko Haram has constructed a conflict economy geared around pillage, racketeering, and kidnapping; senior players in the Nigerian security sector have also profited from the insurgency.

Extra-budgetary spending on counterterrorism has dramatically increased throughout 2014 and into 2015, and with it the scale and scope of corrupt opportunities in the defence sector. Corruption has hollowed out the Nigerian Army, the largest in West Africa, and compromised the integrity of the country’s Navy, which has been implicated in the theft of millions of barrels of crude oil in recent years. The result has been a corrupt war economy that incentivises high- ranking officials and security personnel to perpetuate conflict for personal gain. War has been a boon to Nigeria’s corrupt.

Since coming to power in May 2015, President Buhari has taken some bold action in tackling defence sector corruption. Central to his approach have been two ad hoc, temporary audit committees: one investigating spending by the Office of the National Security Adviser and one investigating defence arms and equipment procurement. Taking on the defence establishment was a significant move: the evidence uncovered by these probes revealed that several of the country’s former military chiefs, using dozens of companies, together stole as much as US $15 billion.

President Buhari’s anti-corruption drive is a rare example of senior Nigerian defence and security officials being exposed to criminal investigation. By signalling that military impunity is not without limit, it is undoubtedly a positive step forward.

The approach has been coupled with a determined attempt to see the return of Nigeria’s stolen wealth. During the London Anti-corruption Summit in May 2016, President Buhari demanded the return of illicitly laundered assets from the UK. The point was powerfully made, but sadly, the chances of success are slim. Asset recovery is a lengthy and resource heavy procedure. The UK performs relatively well compared to international peers, but even at the highest estimate, asset freezing and repatriation are tiny in relation to the vast scale of theft.

Over the past 12 years, UK enforcement agencies have prosecuted just a handful of cases – three state governors – and repatriated only a few million pounds to Nigeria. This is a fraction of what has surely been stolen. The extent of misappropriation of public funds by former General Sani Abacha is notorious. Listed as one of the top four most corrupt world leaders, during five years in office Abacha is estimated to have embezzled between US $2 and 5 billion. Despite unprecedented cooperation between UK, USA, Swiss and Nigerian authorities to return these stolen assets, the case is on-going 19 years after Abacha’s death.

Abacha and these three governors all plundered defence and security budgets. Nigeria suffers from the continent’s highest illicit financial flows because it offers the most opportunities for corruption. To stop today’s assets being misappropriated, defence sector reform must be an equal priority to enforcement and repatriation, or Nigeria’s leaders will always be chasing the past. Since independence, every civilian and military administration has come to power promising to root out corruption. Without progressing its approach to anti-corruption reform, Nigeria’s current and future governments will at best be destined to the same media headlines as its predecessors.

1. The context for defence sector corruption

“Corruption in Nigeria is not mindless…it is calculated and systematic.” former Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi

Political patronage

With evidence uncovered by the two ad hoc audit committees established by President Buhari, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigeria’s main anticorruption agency, has indicted over 300 individuals and companies for defence sector procurement theft and misappropriation.

Fifty-five people, including former government ministers, military chiefs, state governors, and bankers were reported by the committees to have stolen 1.34 trillion naira ($6.8 billion) over a seven-year period in the shape of arms equipment deals. A further $2 billion was allegedly stolen from the National Security Budget under the watch of National Security Advisor, Colonel Sambo Dasuki. What these investigations illustrate is a system of kickbacks, where billions of dollars were diverted from procurement spending, through the use of ‘briefcase’ companies, in order to fund the ruling party’s supporters and ensure electoral success for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 general elections.

The amounts stolen are shockingly bold. Yet the misappropriation of budgets to buy political support is not new. Successive Nigerian leaders, both civilian and military, have built governmental power structures around the country’s main income stream: oil. And until recently oil revenues have typically accounted for up to 70 per cent of government revenues – feeding powerful patronage networks. Obasanjo did not even appoint an oil minister, preferring to supervise the ministry directly himself. Successive administrations have maintained the same structure: former PDP president Goodluck Jonathan, a civilian, appointed his close ally Diezani AlisonMadueke as Oil Minister. Madueke – who has recently been charged with money laundering – was described by one Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) official as, “the oil institution.”

The drop in Nigeria’s state oil revenues has hit oil sector rents hard, and this has led Nigeria’s corrupt elites to raid defence and security sector budgets to maintain their power bases. With defence budgets forming close to 20 per cent of total government spending in 2017, the sector offers lucrative rewards to Nigeria’s corrupt elite. Much of this has been hidden through large value contracts. According to the former Head of the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) – the agency established to monitor, oversee and set standards for government procurement spending – 90 per cent of bribes in Nigeria occur through procurement. Both the size and opacity of the defence sector has made it an attractive veil for fake corporate activity.

While some of this money is stolen for individual profit, a great deal is dispersed through complex patronage networks. As former Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi phrased it, “corruption in Nigeria is not mindless…it is calculated and systematic.” Sustaining political patronage is a system, a system that was previously predominantly funded by the oil sector but is now increasingly relying on plundering of the defence and security budget. Former President Goodluck Jonathan expended unprecedented amounts of patronage, even beyond historical norms, to improve his electoral chances. One former adviser observed that President Jonathan and his allies acted “with a siege mentality” within an unstable PDP. The oil and defence sectors were exploited to record levels in order to sure up an extensive patronage network and safeguard President Jonathan’s political future. These kleptocractic networks have yet to be disabled.

Kleptocratic capture of the defence sector

What is overwhelmingly clear from the results of the ad hoc audit committee investigations is the extent of unmonitored, systemic control over the defence sector by senior government elites. The lack of clear separation between the executive and the military is a long running problem. Despite the formal end of military rule in 1999, the military has played a significant role in political life. With control of the armed forces and a monopoly on access to arms, military generals have the power to protect access to resource rents and ensure their place within the ruling elite.

Kleptocratic capture of the defence sector rests on three pillars: capture of defence budgets and income, capture of defence spending and procurement, and capture of senior military posts. Facilitating this capture are powerful senior figures – godfathers – who select and appoint personnel to defence sector positions, in order to operationalise systemic control over security finances. The system facilitates control from the highest levels of the political party to the lowest levels of the military.

Appointments can also be used as political bargaining chips: former President Jonathan cemented a pre-election political alliance with former head of state Ibrahim Babangida by appointing Aliyu Mohammed – a long-time Babangida loyalist, ex-Army chief, and NSA to two presidents – as minister. As one Nigerian Army officer put it, the “selection of officials [both civilian and military] is done politically and based on who is who. Even when personnel are picked to oversee certain aspects that involve anything in procurement, it is done based on the gain expected or to be reaped by the ‘godfather’ who does the selection.”

Among the rank-and-file, chronic pay shortfalls, inadequate training, and dilapidated facilities create powerful incentives for corruption by undercutting the overall professionalism and morale of the military. As the military’s esprit de corps has eroded, so too has its sense of purpose and focus on its core missions. Over time individual officers and soldiers have come to prioritise their own personal wellbeing – or even their mere subsistence – over the needs of the service. Perceiving themselves to be victims of corrupt behaviour, such as the skimming of allowances or embezzlement of essential operational funds, many have lost faith in the legitimacy of the system and the patrimonial guarantees made to them when they joined it.

Excessive secrecy

In any country, a proportion of spending must remain confidential for security reasons; typically 15 per cent, including among states in conflict. Yet Nigeria classifies nearly all defence contracts and budgets, and considers any broadlydefined security-related matter ‘secret’ by definition.

Even according to the Nigerian government, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) ranks among the agencies least compliant with the 2011 Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. Civil society, meanwhile, ranks the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) among those security agencies most resistant to disclosing information in response to FOI requests. These opaque habits are cultural remnants of the decades Nigeria spent under military rule that have been preserved by contemporary military and civilian leaders keen to forestall outside scrutiny of their activities. As a result, Nigeria ranks among those countries at the highest risk of corruption due to the overclassification of budget data and weak oversight of secret budgets.

This culture of secrecy is often openly hostile or vengeful towards journalists and civil society. In December 2015, soldiers reportedly perpetrated gross human rights violations during two separate military crackdowns in Zaria and Onitsha. In response to these allegations the Nigerian Army has labelled its critics as “unscrupulous and unpatriotic”. Meanwhile President Buhari’s government has failed to take any action to hold the military to account for incidents such as the deaths of several thousand detainees – due to starvation, torture, and disease – at the Giwa Barracks military prison between 2011 and 2014.

Similarly, in June 2016 Nigeria’s Minister of Defence condemned media reports about the Chief of Army Staff’s links to high-end property in Dubai describing them as “disgruntled and unpatriotic elements” and warning the media that they should show more “professionalism [when reporting on] security and defence related matters”. In September 2016, military soldiers and officers of the State Security Services allegedly stripped and beat ten journalists and media workers with barbed wire before arresting them.

The Nigerian military’s hostile response to scrutiny reinforces the perception that it is distinct from other state institutions and can play by a different set of rules. Moreover, there has been a long standing culture among senior officers that rank has its privileges and that promotion to top echelons comes with the prerogative to use one’s position for personal gain. This heavily undermines public trust.

Military exceptionalism

Despite Nigeria’s 1999 return to democratic rule, the oversight exercised by civilian officials and other watchdogs over the military and security agencies remains very weak. Weak accountability has enabled powerholders along the entire defence spending chain to misappropriate state funds, from the Presidency down to unit commanders at ground level.

Although the Senate and the House of Representatives have several security committees (National Security and Intelligence, Defence, Army, Navy, Air Force, and Police Affairs), members of these panels rarely undertake in-depth oversight activities. With defence sector spending shrouded in secrecy, entities such as civil society groups, media organisations, the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), the Auditor General of the Federation, and National Assembly committees are similarly unable to marshal sufficient information to play watchdog, even if they have the formal legal authority to do so.

By establishing two ad hoc investigatory committees to audit the ONSA and past defence procurement, President Buhari has attempted to sidestep existing undeveloped or ineffective oversight institutions. Official announcements from the Presidency declared the probe would investigate contracts entered into from 2007 to 2015, but critics claim that current ruling party members implicated in fraud have been allowed to pay to evade charges, while opposition supporters have been held without bail and charged. Whether or not accusations over political manipulations are true, the reality is that these ad hoc bodies lack the legitimacy and credibility to be a successful long-term solution.

The acquiescence of international partners

International military partners have a part to play and have done precious little to disincentivise Nigerian security-sector corruption. By failing to integrate effective anti-corruption measures into their security engagement policies, partners are inadvertently diminishing the impact of their military assistance. US military and police aid to Nigeria, totalled US $45.4 million from 2010 to 2014, but was just a small fraction of the more than US $2 billion in security funds that was allegedly stolen by Nigeria’s previous National Security Advisor – who for three decades enjoyed a close relationship with Washington.

Key international suppliers of Nigerian military hardware are facilitating fraud by agreeing to uncompetitive or unorthodox contracts. In 2013, Nigeria officials reportedly skimmed US $20 million from an internet surveillance contract directly awarded to an Israeli company in defiance of public procurement competition rules. Likewise, a former air-force chief admitted embezzling millions via seven arms contracts directly awarded to a Ukrainian company.

International partners are missing opportunities to encourage reform. The United States’ efforts to sell 12 A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft to the Nigerian Air Force – whose last three chiefs, along with other senior officers, are currently on trial for embezzlement and procurement fraud – looks like business as usual. Contracts such as this are opportunities to prompt change, yet it is not at all clear that the Nigerian Air Force has become more transparent about its finances and procurement; and the senior air force officer invited to Washington in July 2015 to discuss the Super Tucano sale, has since been charged with corruption.

The widespread use of both international and Nigerian agents to facilitate such deals also increases opportunities for inflating contracts and paying bribes, as illustrated by the recent investigation into Rolls-Royce. Although this case is a good example of how strong, coordinated international enforcement efforts can make businesses accountable for unethical conduct.

Disrupting financial crime

The most effective action against asset flight is to prevent it occurring in the first place; and here the Nigerian and international financial sectors could play a much greater role. Recent evidence from the Presidentially-appointed ad hoc Audit Committees has shown that stolen funds often pass through multiple accounts before being moved offshore beyond the reach of domestic authorities. As facilitators of corrupt funds, both Nigerian and international banks need to raise their standards of governance and control. Those that repeatedly fail should be sanctioned or shut down. But this is not currently happening: Skye Bank has been consistently implicated in the EFCC’s corruption and fraud prosecutions, such as the current N22.8 billion trial of three former air force chiefs and an Air Force Director of Finance for money laundering. Skye Bank has been indicted alongside the defendants, yet the Central Bank of Nigeria has not used its sanctioning powers to hold board members to account. Instead, the Central Bank allowed board members to announce they had “voluntarily resigned” – despite evidence of gross insider malpractice, including by the Chairman Tunde Ayeni. Ayeni is a close associate of President Jonathan and convicted PDP governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. Whilst chair of Skye Bank, Ayeni was also chair of Joint Aviation Services Limited – a briefcase company involved in bidding for inflated defence procurement contracts – highlighting the high level of elite control of defence spending and money laundering.

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How your mobile phone is connected to drone warfare and the war on terror
| May 19, 2017 | 7:08 pm | Africa, Struggle for Peace | No comments

How your mobile phone is connected to drone warfare and the war on terror

The Congolese war, which has killed over six million people since 1996, is the deadliest conflict in the world since the Second World War. If you add the number of deaths in Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Rwanda over the same period, it would still not equal the millions who have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Part of a solution to this is for western governments to hold Rwanda and Uganda accountable for funding proxy armies in the DRC. The retreat of M23 rebels from the Eastern DRC in recent days shows international pressure to stop Rwanda from supporting the rebels is working. The DRC insurgency is far from over, as other rebel groups are still to be defeated. There is a long way to go before stabilization in the region will be possible.

Considering that violence and brutality in the DRC is proportionate to the demand for the eastern regions of the country’s rich mineral deposits, it is less a matter of who is funding and supporting one army or another. The question is, rather, what is creating a heightened demand for conflict minerals?

The high-grade metal tantalum, processed from the precious mineral coltan, makes it possible to build smaller and smaller electronic gadgets like smart phones and tablets. It is also essential in powering a new trend of military applications such as drones. A new demand for tantalum has boosted coltan mining, trading and smuggling. As stockpiles run low, it is most likely a tantalum shortage could intensify violence again, which directly and indirectly affects people in the mining areas of the eastern DRC.

This province is the richest source of coltan in the world, with an estimated eighty percent of the world’s coltan reserves. Competition for minerals has a direct effect on the relentless violence in the region. Women and young girls have been among visible victims of the conflict and hundreds of thousands of them have been raped by opposing warring factions as a weapon of war.

A country the size of Western Europe, the DRC holds an estimated $24 trillion in mineral reserves, including gold, diamonds, copper, cobalt, coltan, tin, tungsten, zinc, manganese, magnesium, uranium, niobium, gold, diamonds and silver. Armed groups vie for control of mineral mines and the routes for mineral transportation. Minerals are channeled through neighbouring countries, Rwanda and Uganda by violent rebel groups and then bought by multinational companies. The Washington Post reports Congolese minerals are smuggled into Rwanda to the tune of $6 million a day.

Tantalum plays a vital role in the growing coltan market. A derivative of coltan, tantalum is a key component in modern electronics. It is the metal used in capacitors or devices that store energy.

Tantalum capacitors are not only used in smartphones. They are important for aerospace and military technologies, which rely on tantalum capacitors for running applications that reach very high temperatures.

With an extraordinary ability to withstand a broad range of temperatures and to resist corrosion, tantalum capacitors are a marvel of technology. They can retain a charge for an extended time and can tolerate operating environments of up to 200 °C.

One of the biggest challenges for defence electronics designers is in managing extremely high temperatures generated by the high performance processors in the new military applications. Recent innovations in thermal management have made it possible to operate under high heat loads using tantalum capacitors.

This extends to smart bombs, on-board navigation in drones, robots and a variety of weapons systems, such as the capacitors in anti-tank systems. Further advances in technology have brought the rapid development of fully autonomous weapons or lethal autonomous robots. In short, if it were not for tantalum’s amazing heat resistant properties, these systems would otherwise overheat.

At this year’s SPIE Defense Security and Sensing electro-optics conference trade show in Baltimore, the latest products were unveiled for drones technology. The focus at SPIE was on a new generation of drones that require small, light and low energy consuming technology.

Such advances in military technology increase the need for coltan. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reports: “Coltan’s ability to hold and move electrical signals and its conductive ability in extreme temperatures, makes it ideal for smart bomb guidance controls. Security analysts say it is a strategic mineral.”

Tantalum derived from coltan is essential in powering a new trend of military applications made by the US. Yet, the US has no domestic source of coltan. In order to sustain a continued flow of coltan, it depends entirely on imports.

The United States’ Defence Logistics Agency (USDLA) maintains reserves of strategic minerals and rare metals in its National Defence Stockpile (NDS). The NDS was established in 1939 to reduce the possibility of “a dangerous and costly dependence by the United States upon foreign sources for supplies of such materials in times of national emergency.”

Despite this, US tantalum stocks have depleted in recent years. According to Daniel McGroarty, in a Pentagon report last year about US dependency on minerals, the Department of Defence recommends stockpiling tantalum and eight other strategic minerals. If the US were to run out of tantalum, would it be able to continue building its state-of-the-art weaponry?

The consequences of a tantalum shortage would have a calamitous effect on the DRC. A shortage of coltan ore at the end of 2000 contributed to an overnight price hike from $49 to $275 per pound (454 grams). The moment of the price hike was also a time of great intensification of violence in the Eastern DRC.

Today the price of tantalum is up again and the rise in price corresponds to the violent situation on the ground. In June the situation in the DRC became increasingly insecure. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned: “…acts of violence committed against civilians, including murder and sexual assault, remain at a very worrying level and regularly cause the displacement of thousands of families.”

Conflict-free campaigns attribute the tantalum rise as a response to the smartphone and tablet market. These campaigns aim to ensure rebel forces do not control sources of tantalum to finance armed conflict and that supply chains are transparent. These initiatives look at supply chains and manufacturing connected to companies like Apple and Samsung, but there is more to tantalum than the phone and gadgets market.

Conflict-free advocates make the mistake of overlooking the links between minerals and the weapons manufacturing industry. It is doubtful defence companies will be seeking out conflict free mineral sources anytime soon. A conflict-free weapon is an oxymoron.

Even less likely is the prospect of the defence sector abiding new federal legislation, which requires public companies to disclose whether they use conflict minerals from the DRC. Under the 2010 Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act , US companies are required to submit a report to the Securities and Exchange Commission by May 2014 on the sources of the minerals they use.

Campaigns for conflict-free minerals are calling on electronics companies to use fair trade, conflict-free materials in smartphones, laptops and tablets. Their work has been successful in increasing the number of conflict-free mines in the eastern DRC. What has not been addressed is the larger role of conflict minerals beyond the realm of consumer electronics.

At the current rate, the weapons industry could exceed smartphone and tablet makers in coltan consumption if it has not already. Extended use of drones in the past decade means the US needs tantalum because the basic circuitry in drones is built with tantalum from refined coltan. This connection to weapons manufacturing gives new meaning to the term ‘blood coltan’.

Blood coltan is not exclusive to central Africa. Significant coltan reserves exist in the Amazon jungle covering the Venezuelan-Columbian border creating an emergent black market. Drug lords dominate the Columbian side of the border. This is considered a conflict zone as coltan is smuggled through the danger area on its way from Venezuela to Columbia and to Brazil.

In the DRC, mineral mining, trading and smuggling continue to fund the ongoing conflict. Armed groups include the Congolese national army (FARDC) whose ranks include many former rebels. The M23, which has given up control of the region, is made up of former members of the FARDC who mutinied in April 2012. A Global Witness report last year revealed members of FARDC make millions of dollars through their control of the mines. Constant struggles between the FARDC and numerous rebel groups over control of minerals mining and transportation of minerals have a direct effect on the killing, raping and ongoing violence in the region.

The rush on coltan engenders the violence in the DRC. Spearheading that demand is tantalum, a key ingredient in new military technologies.

The US obsession with “surgical” remote-controlled warfare, especially drones, is sharpening the appetite for tantalum. The US has killed thousands in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia with the ever-increasing drone strikes. Armed drones are also in operation in Mali, Libya and Niger.

This highlights a worrying connection between two contemporaneous wars – the twelve-year ‘war on terror’ and the sixteen-year war in the Congo. Joining the two is the demand for Congolese minerals.

Source: Pambazuka