Archive for March, 2012

Mali-cious In tent

March 31, 2012

Lunghu is well aware that his endorsement carries virtually no weight whatsoever, but let the record show that he fully supports the goals, objectives and even the methods of Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo and the provisional/transitional government of Mali.  Although hypocritical political leaders in Africa, Europe and the United States criticize Mali’s military for ousting a corrupt “democratically elected” civilian government, Western governments have been largely ignoring West Africa’s dysfunctional kleptocracies for years  –as long as gold and uranium mining companies are allowed to extract mountains of ore with as little fuss as possible.

Countries neighboring Mali … Africa’s third largest gold producer … have condemned the coup and have given the military junta a 72-hour deadline to hand power back to civilians, which expires on Monday, or face crippling sanctions.  The regional organization ECOWAS has said that they will close the country’s land borders and freeze its account in the regional central bank.  Sanogo has said that he “understands” the position of ECOWAS, but begged Mali’s neighbors to deepen their analysis and to examine the reasons that led to the coup.

Mali is a landlocked economy and relies on neighboring countries (primarily Ivory Coast) for fuel imports and exports.  As a member of the west African monetary union, the Malian banking and financial system would [collapse] within weeks if the common central bank cuts Mali off, and leave the junta without cash to pay public sector salaries.

In the United States, just about the only people who have been paying attention up until now are DEA and Africom, because the Sahel region has become a key 21st century transshipment point for the international cocaine and weapons trafficking industries. For several years now, executive jets operated by Colombian cocaine cartels have been flying loads of 300-kilos or more across the Atlantic from Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname to desert airstrips in northern Burkina Faso and Mali.  And who’s at the receiving end of all this skullduggery-in-the-Sahara?  Fundamentalist Islamic militants and Tuareg tribesmen, who ship the cocaine onward to Europe and the Persian Gulf, then use the proceeds to purchase weapons, bribe government officials, and feed their camp followers.

A nice little market niche, until the Arab Spring upset the apple cart.  Tuareg tribesmen had formed a key portion of Gadhafi’s armed forces, their loyalty to the regime purchased with generous salaries and the knowledge that all the other tribes in Libya hated them.  Tuaregs in the Libyan military furnished unofficial-official permission (and thus security) for semi-clandestine drug convoys that passed north through the desert to Mediterranean seaports –all part of the supply chain transportation service provided to the Colombian trafficking networks.  But when the NATO bombing began, and Gadhafi eventually fell, no more convoys.  No more escort duty. No more military jobs.  The Tuaregs had to flee for their lives, back into the desert.  They took their guns and ammunition with them, by the truckload.  In southbound convoys.  To the northern borders of Niger and Mali.

Tuareg rebels on Saturday attacked Mali’s strategic northern city of Gao, a day after they took the provincial capital of Kidal, witnesses said.  The two towns are major prizes for the rebels, who launched an insurgency in January fueled by the flow of arms from the fall of neighboring Libya, where many of the rebels had been on the payroll of Moammar Gadhafi.  If Gao falls, the only other major city in Mali’s north in government hands is Timbuktu.

The Tuareg rebels that have seized control of much of northern Mali are an amalgam of different factions. They include a secular group known as the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, or NMLA, whose stated aim is to carve out a Tuareg homeland in the north. There is also an Islamic faction called Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith in Arabic) which wants to impose Sharia law in the north.  A man who fled Kidal across the border into Niger said the Islamist rebels had taken down all the flags of the NMLA in that city. He said they were going around demanding shopkeepers take down posters considered to reflect Western culture.

Here’s hoping that somebody at Africom has spent the weekend explaining to Hilary Clinton at the State Department that it’s all well and good to pay lip service to West African democracy, but that the alternative to Captain Sanogo –Tuaregs in the north– have no democratic tradition whatsoever:  they’ve been murderers, robbers, extortionists and slave traders for centuries.   In other words … natural allies of the United States?!?   Not quite.

Banda Brothers?

March 23, 2012

When large institutions of higher education in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are ranked against their competitors and peers, there’s one that never quite measures up against acknowledged intellectual giants such as MIT and Harvard:  Boston University.  Despite its emphasis on research and a $2 billion financial endowment, BU has long enjoyed(?) a reputation in the Northeast for being a ‘party school’ that specializes in cranking out bachelor’s degrees for frat boys on a business/corporate middle-management career track.  BU’s rowing program isn’t too good either.

BU’s latest move hasn’t done much to enhance its second-tier status:

Former Zambian President Rupiah Banda has accepted an appointment as the African President-in-Residence at Boston University.  The President-in-Residence program enables a democratically elected former African leader to spend up to two years at BU sharing insights on contemporary trends in Africa.  [Banda] was elected president in October 2008, oversaw notable national growth rates during his tenure with GDP peaking at 7.6 percent in 2010, and was narrowly defeated for reelection in September 2011. Center director Charles Stith says there is much to learn from Banda’s experience pulling Zambia out of the global recession.

 

Weeeelllllll, some Zambians don’t exactly see it that way.

Dr. Rodger Chongwe, one of Zambia’s most prominent attorneys, says he is surprised at Boston University’s decision to engage Rupiah Banda on various lectures on democracy and political issues when the former president was a failure at them.  Dr Chongwe said Banda would be remembered as a president who had embraced corruption after he decided to [emulate] the late Fredrick Chiluba‘s mode of presidency.
   “After assuming office and with all the enthusiasm which he received from the Zambian people, Mr Banda’s performance as president became disappointing to most Zambians –particularly to those of us who had known him at Munali Secondary School. He made mistakes; many of them were due to his refusal to accept advice and general lack of experience as a politician,” said Dr Chongwe.  Dr Chongwe [added that] he felt pity for the future recipients of Banda’s lectures because the man was insensitive to civility, human dignity and respect for other people’s views.  
“Abraham Lincoln coined the phrase that ‘democracy is a government of the people, for the people and by the people.’  These are not tenets that were practiced by Mr Banda when he was president of Zambia. One wonders why the Americans are spending so much money on a person who in fact should have [himself] paid to go and study at a school of politics and democracy in America so that he could learn something.”

Unequal Time

Former President Banda is suspected of participating in systematic corruption while in office, although he insists that he is a victim of vindictive political persecution at the hands of last year’s election victors, the Patriotic Front of Zambia.

Banda has insisted that he is a clean man and that the PF government must furnish Zambians with evidence to prove that he is a thief.

Riposte

Home Affairs Minister Kennedy Sakeni took the occasion to remark:

“There is no persecution.  Mr Banda knows very well how he persecuted other people when he was in government.  He was persecuting people himself. They are stories of people who were being innocently fired by him left, right and center for political expedience and those that were being arrested and detained.
   “The PF government has no time to persecute people. Banda must not think Zambians are foolish.  [Where did] Banda have the kind of money to build those flats in such a short time? Banda cannot today say that he acquired a loan from a bank to build them –that is abusing his authority. How can the President apply for a loan, knowing too well that they won’t deny him the loan?  That is clear abuse of authority. The mere fact that when he immediately got in office he went to the bank to borrow that money is evidence. That is using your office for pecuniary interests,” Sakeni said.
   “He has not told Zambians where he got money to buy 150 vehicles prior to the [2011] elections. Where did he get the money to buy those trucks? Banda has failed to account for that money in his own political party.  He was sending truckloads of food stuffs in all provinces for [election] campaigns, where did that money come from? Let him remind himself.”

And former home minister Lameck Mangani commented,

A lot of things happened –for example there were people in the previous leadership who would go to Toyota Zambia and buy seven Land Cruisers at once. Those people are walking freely. Is that harassment, is that?”

Even the members of Banda’s own political party, the MMD, are furious with him.  It now appears that the party  –at the direction of its leadership (Banda)– has been intentionally neglecting to pay its required annual registration fees to the Zambia Registrar of Societies (the national equivalent of a corporate registrar in any of the fifty United States).  As a result, the party is faced with the prospect of being delisted as a corporate entity.

Dr Katele Kalumba, former MMD national secretary, said the Registrar of Societies should have de-registered the MMD a long time ago because the law required that the MMD –like all other parties– should have [paid fees] for their [local party] branches each year.
[According to Kalumba] past MMD party presidents — including Fredrick Chiluba, Levy Mwanawasa and Rupiah Banda— used their offices to inform the secretariat that the Ministry of Home Affairs or the registrar itself [would] ignore the question of branches.
“The issue is not that MMD was not making annual returns (paying fees), the real technical issue is that MMD as a party was making returns only for its [central] secretariat.  It was not doing as required by law to also pay for all its branches and that’s what this has come to. I think even the Registrar can confirm the fact that there were returns being done for the secretariat, but they were remitting because presidents were intervening. They were asking the Registrar to look the other way, that’s what I suspect. This did not start in the last three or five years –no! it started under Chiluba, Mwanawasa and Banda. It has been the case all along, they are all responsible. No one should take exception here, it’s not Banda alone. This is right from the beginning of the party, they ignored that particular requirement of the law.”

Running Dog Lackeys

Recently, the MMD de-listing issue has been gleefully adopted as an expedient cudgel by Euro-American investment functionaries who see an opportunity to extract/extort an exorbitant rent from the booming Zambian minerals economy.  Here’s the situation:  thanks to Banda-era deal-making (i.e., corruption), Chinese companies basically have a ‘lock’ on most of the large-scale mining operations in Zambia.  That leaves the former colonial overlords (the Brits) unable to cash in on the high prices that Zambian minerals such as copper can currently command in world commodities markets.  However, there’s hope in the land of Adam Smith:  the British and Americans DO have significant control over capital markets where the nations of the world must finance their sovereign debt.  During the past two years, we’ve seen repeated examples (Spain, Italy, Greece, etc.) of the way that bond rating agencies (Standard & Poor, Moody’s, Fitch) can use a ratings downgrade (or merely the threat of one) to put pressure on national governments while simultaneously locking in profits for the investment banks that have built up CDS (credit default swap) and bond arbitrage positions calibrated to precisely such a ratings downgrade.

Deja vu all over again:

Fitch Ratings, which last month lowered Zambia’s economic outlook to negative (‘B+’/Negative/’B’) from stable, [now] says possible deregistration of MMD increases its concerns over policy direction and governance quality.  [A Fitch spokesperson added] “This is particularly the case in a year that the government will seek to raise US$500m from international capital markets in a debut Eurobond.  If the decision to de-register the MMD is upheld and [parliamentary] by-elections are called, there will also be adverse fiscal consequences.  Fitch highlights again the risks associated with sending a negative message on matters relating to economic policy, property rights and respect for the rule of law.”

For those who need a translation, “adverse fiscal consequences” means that Fitch is signalling to prospective bond investors that they may be able to strongarm Zambia into paying higher interest rates on its bond debt.  Never mind that the Sata/PF government hasn’t actually threatened legitimate property rights except in those cases where clearly corrupt privatization deals took place under Banda, and that observance of the rule of law has actually been better than under Banda.  In Africa, any attempt to clean up corruption is definitely a threat to ‘business as usual’ and that means it’s a threat to the longstanding system of colonialism with an African face.  Rupiah Banda:  ready to serve … anything except time.

 

Hobgoblin of Small Minds

March 10, 2012

Golly, Lunghu is confused: what happened to that jingoistic Associated Press to which he’s become accustomed?  Just last month the AP was acting like a wholly-owned subsidiary of AIPAC, churning out a gushing stream of articles warning of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and playing up Iranian connections to bomb attacks in Georgia, India and Thailand.  Never mind that security specialists in Asia began to suggest that the bombers’ M.O. seemed to have the hallmarks of Israel’s own proxy terror group, the Iranian Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK).   You never heard anything about that from AP.

But suddenly, the AP is giving prominent place to articles like this:

Iran’s UN Fact Sheet: Weapons Track Not Confirmed
Iran has the equipment and raw materials to produce the fissile core of a nuclear weapon, as does any country that can produce its own reactor fuel.  But there is no evidence that the Islamic Republic has taken steps in that direction. … U.S. intelligence officials say they generally stand by a 2007 intelligence assessment that asserts Iran stopped comprehensive secret work on developing nuclear arms in 2003.

It’s almost as though somebody issued a whole new set of marching orders to the AP editorial staff.   Was all the prior hype just meant to pave the way for Netanyahu’s visit to Washington last month?  Did Obama’s obsequious speech to AIPAC sufficiently soothe the savage beast?  Difficult to say.

Still, AP’s old habits die hard.  The most expensive intell agencies in the world (ours) don’t think Iran is working on an atomic bomb, but …

Britain, France, Germany, Israel and other allies think such activities have continued past [2003], a view shared by the IAEA, which says some isolated and sporadic activities may be ongoing.  In its November 2011 report, the IAEA published a 13-page list of suspected experiments it says “indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”  It underlined that it found the information “to be, overall, credible,” describing it as coming from “a wide variety of sources.”
“It is overall consistent in terms of technical contents, individuals and organizations involved and time frames,” the report says.

Now, let’s all remember that intell “consistency” can be easily orchestrated and stage-managed when the “various” sources involved are routinely sharing information and coordinating their activities as part of S.O.P.   In the post-9/11 world, that’s certainly what they’ve all been telling us they do.  Therefore, we can’t plausibly pretend that assessments coming out of Britain, France and Germany (or Israel, for that matter) will in every case have been independently crafted in utter ignorance of what their NATO peers have in the works.

In any event, consistency should never be the sole –or even the primary– determinant of information credibility.  Factors such as objectivity, precision, completeness and coherence also contribute to judgements of information quality.  Lunghu’s gonna guess that much of the IAEA’s information falls a little bit short on the objectivity, precision (suspected experiments?”) and completeness metrics of information quality.  Precision and completeness are usually too-good-to-be-true in the intell business, so it’s not entirely fair to critique the IAEA for making do with partial, fuzzy information:  it’s part of the generic intell landscape.  But when you begin to look at likely objectivity (or lack thereof) of the information sources, it’s a different matter altogether.

Who are those sources?  Well, in addition to the ones identified by name –Britain, France, Germany, Israel–  we have “other U.S. allies” who contributed to the IAEA’s report.  AP doesn’t name them, but the most likely candidates are the Arab states of the Gulf region:  Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, etc.  All of these Sunni kingdoms and sheikdoms fear Shiite Persian power –in large part because it threatens the internal stability of their own precarious regimes.  Not exactly what you’d call objective, disinterested observers.  And while they don’t have militaries large enough to challenge Iran, the Gulf states definitely have the money needed to rent the favor of nations that do.  In 2012, in the midst of a simmering Eurozone debt crisis meltdown, money is a weapons system that can easily conquer Europe … as the Chinese, Indians, Russians and Gulf Arabs are reaffirming every day.

In other words, for those of you who haven’t yet connected the dots, the push for harsher sanctions and military action against Iran has been fueled by an unholy ecumenical alliance between Israel and Sunni Arabs.  Britain, France and Germany are in the game in exchange for Gulf oil and petrodollar bond investments … while dreaming of another Libya.

Obama isn’t quite so eager to set the world on fire in an election year.  First, he’d be blamed by the entire world for any attack on Iran whether or not the United States was involved.  Then, he’d be blamed by Gingrich, Santorum, Romney et al. for not attacking sooner, or with nuclear weapons, or for not invoking a Christian God as he did so, etc.  And AIPAC would still want him to release Jonathan Pollard from federal prison.  Who needs that headache?

The Evolution WILL Be Televised

March 4, 2012

On the internet.  Just like the Wisconsin recall ballot handcount.

credit: John MacDougall

And remember, everyone; the camera doesn’t lie.  But Photoshop sure does.

March 4th.  Marchons, marchons … etc.