Tag Archives: Africa

Ethiopia and Somalia

Paul B. Henze.  Paul B. Henze, a former US National Security Council Staff Officer, has been a student of, and periodic participant in, affairs of the Horn of Africa for almost half a century. He has published several books on the region and visits it frequently, having most recently spent two weeks in Ethiopia in December 2006 as the crisis in Somalia was coming to a head.

A lack of relevant fact and background information characterizes most reporting on recent developments in Somalia . Media performance has been shallow: full of hype and repetition, little background, no historical perspective, highlighting of negative comments and predictions. The Ethiopian operation was not undertaken because the US urged it. Ethiopia has no desire to occupy or dominate Somalia –only to keep it from being a danger to the region. Ethiopia was invaded by Somalia in 1977 and invaded by Eritrea in 1998–it did not simply “fight a war” with them. Meles did not act to divert attention from internal troubles. Somalia has no historic existence as a state. It has been a disruptive element in the Horn of Africa since it came into existence in 1960. It has been in a condition of anarchy since 1991. The Islamic Courts declared war on Ethiopia and claimed Ethiopian territory. The AU, the UN, the US and most Western countries recognize Ethiopia ‘s entitlement to act in its own interests as well as those of the Somali people.

View Full Paper (Web)

View Full Paper (PDF)

An African Taliban

By David McCormack

Thirteen years ago this week, a pitched battle erupted in Mogadishu that led to the deaths of 18 American servicemen. They had been attempting to bring a measure of stability to war-torn Somalia. The determination demonstrated by those soldiers, however, was not matched by politicians in Washington. In the face of public confusion about and congressional outrage over a mission that resulted in American bodies being dragged through the streets of a far-off capital, the Clinton administration decided within days of the battle’s end to withdraw all U.S. forces from the country.

In the ensuing years, the consequences of that ignominious retreat have revealed themselves in spades. Some have simply been ignored, like the enduring humanitarian catastrophe levied on the Somali populace. Others have been disputed, such as the impression left with international terrorists that the United States would run if bloodied — a belief that undoubtedly offered some motivation for the attacks of September 11.

Unavoidable and indisputable progress, however, has been made in only the past few months by Islamic extremists, organized under the banner of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), toward the consolidation of power in Somalia. Both the ICU’s ideology and the manner in which it is seizing control are eerily reminiscent of the Taliban’s rise in Afghanistan. Should the United States and its regional allies fail to act quickly, a reincarnation of that Islamofascist regime will soon entrench itself in the Horn of Africa.

The first Islamic courts emerged at the neighborhood level throughout the country — though administratively and ideologically independent of one another — in the vacuum resulting from the collapse of Siad Barre’s dictatorship in 1991. Confronted by the anarchic warlordism that followed, many Somalis freely submitted to the judicial authority of the courts and took advantage of their ability to offer basic social services. By bringing a degree of order to the lawless country, the courts’ popularity increased over the years.

In the late-1990s, a movement aimed at unifying the disparate courts in order to gain leverage in the nascent national political process began to develop under the leadership of Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys. This coalition would eventually become the ICU.

Though unknown to most Western observers, Aweys had notoriously served as military commander of al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI) — an extremist Islamic organization that seeks to impose a strict version of sharia law on ethnic Somalis, and in parts of Ethiopia and Kenya. Among its terrorist credentials, AIAI has carried out regular attacks against Ethiopia and is linked to al Qaeda’s bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam in 1998 (it is believed that elements of the ICU continue to provide shelter to the terrorists responsible for those and other attacks against Western targets).

By the early part of 2006, the level of cooperation attained by the ICU made it appear threatening enough to convince competing Mogadishu warlords — brutal enough in their own right — to partner with one another in The Alliance for Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT). This anti-Islamist coalition, however, badly miscalculated the competence of ICU militias that fought not for money but for ideology, and whose strength was buttressed by Arab jihadis. By late summer, the ARPCT was thoroughly defeated, and the ICU has since determinedly marched from town to town, tightening its hold on the southern part of the country by acquiring the loyalty of militias in those locales — increasingly without having to fire a shot.

In areas that the ICU has come to control, it has hardly attempted to disguise its vision for greater Somalia. In a Taliban-like manner, the ICU has closed cinemas and prohibited music and mixed-gender parties. It has banned civic organizations, and it has even begun to execute criminals publicly.

Following the ARPCT’s defeat, commentators heaped opprobrium on the United States for its tacit — and probably material — support of the warlords, with whom U.S. intelligence agencies had worked in the past to capture individual terrorists residing in Somalia. This line of thinking held that such posturing fueled Islamist rage and forced closer cooperation among the Islamic courts. That criticism, however, was badly misplaced.

While U.S. policy certainly bears its share of responsibility for the ascendance of the ICU, its failure lies in an unwillingness to offer greater support to anti-Islamist constituencies. In Somalia, as in many other places around the world, policymakers treated Islamofascism’s advance on the political, cultural, and social order as insignificant and/or as an internal matter not to be meddled with. As such, measures aimed at creating conditions that might have made the broader Somali population — which has historically practiced a moderate form of Islam — more antagonistic toward the ICU’s program were neglected.

Some have expressed hope that there is still time to facilitate negotiations between the ICU and the displaced Transitional Federal Government (TFG). The TFG is holding out — backed by Ethiopian troops — in the city of Baidoa, and some suggest that these two forces could be persuaded to form a unity government. The TFG, however, enjoys almost no support among Somali citizens and is propped up only by assistance from the international community. From its relative position of power, the ICU is unlikely to accept any settlement other than one that achieves its final objective, which was reiterated last June by Sheikh Aweys: "Any government we agree on would be based on the holy Koran and the teachings of our Prophet Muhammad."

It seems, then, that only a decisive blow will uproot the ICU. With pressing commitments elsewhere, the United States cannot afford to participate militarily; it is nevertheless able to make a vital contribution. By all indications, Ethiopia — not keen on Islamofascists setting up shop next door — is preparing to move against the ICU, with or without international collaboration. Therefore, the United States should work to facilitate Ethiopia’s strike and prevent the coming clash from expanding into a region-wide war.

This will involve, at least, mustering diplomatic acquiescence for Ethiopia’s battle against the ICU to ensure the campaign is not prematurely ended in the face of international pressure. More importantly, the United States must put the diplomatic handcuffs on Eritrea, the ICU’s largest patron, which might use Addis Ababa’s decision to attack the ICU as a pretext for resolving unfinished business from its border war with Ethiopia that lasted from 1998-2000 and nearly erupted again earlier this year. To complicate matters further, this conflict could embroil other East African nations, including Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda. In addition to disrupting America’s counter-terrorism activities from its 1,800-strong base in Djibouti, a regional war would likely jeopardize safe passage through the strategically important Bab el Mandeb Strait, which is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

A mess would undoubtedly be left in the wake of the forceful destruction of the ICU, requiring a vigorous effort to rebuild Somalia that would best be led by the United States in partnership with other East African states. But these costs are acceptable in comparison to the consequences that would flow from the establishment of an African Taliban.

This article originally appeared in National Review Online.

Securing Africa

By David McCormack

For decades, the United States has regarded its security interests in Sub-Saharan Africa as insignificant, instead treating the region as little more than a dumping ground for humanitarian assistance. Nowhere has this attitude been more conspicuous than in the structuring of U.S. Unified Commands (inter-service military commands) such that responsibility for the continent is divided among the European, Central and Pacific Commands.

Recent reports, however, indicate that the Department of Defense, under the forward-thinking leadership of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace, strongly favors the creation of a separate military command for Africa. Under the right conditions, such a move would vastly improve the Nation’s security posture, as the African landscape is increasingly dominated by elements intent on undermining America’s wellbeing.

Islamofascism on the March

Islamofascists have found Sub-Saharan Africa to be particularly useful in advancing their agenda. With its massive Muslim population of 250 million, the region has become progressively radicalized over the past three decades through the introduction of Islamist ideologies by states from the Middle East. In fact, at least tens of billions of dollars have been poured into the subcontinent in support of Islamism. It is therefore hardly surprising that the state faith of Saudi Arabia – Wahhabism – has become the most dynamic ideological strain of Islamism in Sub-Saharan Africa, given that the Ministry of Islamic Affairs reportedly receives more money for activity in Africa than does the Foreign Ministry.

This environment, permeated with extremist Islamic thought, has created legions of terrorists and provided them a hospitable base of operations. Prominent international terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda and Hezbollah have assumed a strong presence – primarily to finance and plan, but also to carry out, attacks – while several local terror groups such as al-Itihaad al-Islami and the Salafist Group for Call and Combat have emerged to wage jihad for control of Africa itself.

China on the Rise

Communist China has recently surfaced as a major player in the continent’s affairs, in an attempt both to put a stranglehold on Africa’s natural resources – especially its oil, which currently accounts for nearly 30 percent of Chinese imports – and to cultivate alliances that will increase its weight in the international political arena, with a primary objective being the diplomatic isolation of democratic Taiwan.

China’s presence, not surprisingly, has abetted Africa’s worst tendencies. For example, massive oil concessions granted to the PRC in Sudan have been exchanged for Beijing’s political and physical support of the genocidal, terrorist-sponsoring regime in Khartoum. Not only has China played a leading role in preventing the international community from taking serious action on Darfur, but it sold military hardware – including tanks, helicopters and anti-personnel mines – to Khartoum even as ethnic cleansing was being carried out.

In the Crosshairs

For a better understanding of the types of challenges America faces south of the Sahara, consider the following sampler:

Somalia. Nearly 13 years after the United States beat an ignominious retreat from Somalia, another force has moved to impose its own version of stability – that of Islamofascism. Over the past several months, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) has been rapidly establishing itself as the most powerful military and political force in the country, and is poised to either topple the internationally-supported Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Significantly, both the ICU’s ideology and the manner in which it is seizing control are eerily reminiscent of the Taliban’s rise in Afghanistan.

The possible ascension of this "African Taliban," moreover, threatens to engulf the entire Horn of Africa in war. Unwilling to accept a radical Islamist neighbor, Ethiopia is preparing to strike at the ICU, which would almost certainly lead Eritrea – the ICU’s largest patron and Ethiopia’s greatest enemy – to retaliate, in turn potentially drawing in Kenya and Sudan on the sides of the TFG and the ICU, respectively. In addition to disrupting America’s counter-terrorism activities from its 1,800-strong base in Djibouti, a regional war would likely jeopardize passage through the strategically important Bab el Mandeb Strait, which is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

 Nigeria. In the shake-up that followed liberation from military rule in 1999, twelve predominantly Muslim states in northern Nigeria took advantage of the central government’s weakened position and adopted separate legal codes based on full Shari’a, leading to interfaith fighting that has taken, according to some estimates, up to ten thousand lives. Recognizing the potential created by this situation, in a May 2003 tape, Osama bin Laden named Nigeria as one of six states "most eligible for liberation."

Additionally, the petroleum sector in Nigeria – which is the fifth largest supplier to the United States – is proving to be increasingly problematic. Over the course of the past months, ethnically-based militias have targeted the industry by kidnapping foreign workers and destroying critical infrastructure, shutting down up to 20 percent Nigeria’s total daily output. Additionally, China has augmented its profile exponentially. As explained by Iheanyi Ohiaeri, head of business development for Nigeria’s National Petroleum Corporation, "We haven’t been totally invaded by China yet, but it will come."

South Africa. Unquestionably the dominant actor on the continent due to its comparative economic strength, military power, and rich natural resources, the ruling African National Congress has been steadily leading the country – and hence the rest of Africa – away from a healthy relationship with the United States and toward ideologies and nations opposed to American interests.

Specifically, South Africa has strengthened ties with China, Iran, Syria and other gross violators of human rights and state-sponsors of terrorism, and last year concluded a defense and intelligence pact with Zimbabwe, signaling its solidarity with Africa’s most brutal dictator, Robert Mugabe. Of special concern, however, is the rapprochement taking place between South Africa and Muammar Gadhafi’s Libya, forming a north-south axis that is working with other radical political forces to control both the African Union and its representative governments.

What Needs to be Done

The United States would undoubtedly benefit both from streamlining and increasing efforts in Africa through the establishment of a new Unified Command. However, it is tremendously important this be done correctly. By locating certain Unified Commands inside the U.S. (think Southern Command and Central Command), America has surrendered significant influence in the regions it hopes to affect. Critically, then, a proper engagement strategy for Africa requires placing this new command where it will have the greatest impact – on the continent.

Fortunately, options for the development of such an operation exist, though they will take time to cultivate. In the short-term, then, it may be preferable to create a Sub-Unified Command for the continent within the European Command ? where much expertise on Africa is currently housed ? while working to relocate in theater in the longer-term.

Now more than ever, the United States must recognize that it is being targeted by enemies of freedom in an ideological battle for Africa that, if lost, will undermine U.S. success in the larger War for the Free World. America has so far been absent from this encounter, costing us dearly in terms of strategic position. It is time to engage.

Dragon at the fount of Africa

Fresh off important visits to the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Morocco, Chinese President Hu Jintao is expected to arrive in Nigeria later this week to meet with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and several key legislators to discuss bilateral relations and issues of common interest. During his visit, President Hu will also deliver a much anticipated speech to the Nigerian parliament on China’s policy in Africa. The trip is designed to reinforce what has quickly become one of Africa’s most dynamic strategic partnerships.

Two-way trade has greatly expanded reaching US$2.83 billion in 2005, up nearly 30 percent from 2004. Chinese foreign minister Li Zhaoxing noted earlier this month, "Remarkable progress has been made in China-Nigeria economic and trade cooperation." Cooperation in areas such as agriculture, communications, power generation and transportation have accelerated, with Nigeria’s non-oil exports to China totaling an estimated US$500 million in 2005. Although these achievements are indeed impressive, the future of Sino-Nigerian relations rests in the continued development of bilateral energy cooperation.

Like the U.S. and other Western countries, China is determined to diversify its energy supplies away from the volatile Middle East region where it currently gets 60 percent of its oil, to areas in Africa, South America and even North America. Currently, China gets a quarter of its oil from Africa and is looking to increase that number substantially over the next several years.

According to the Oil and Gas Journal (OGJ), Nigeria has nearly 36 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, making it the largest oil producer in Africa and the tenth largest producer of crude in the world. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), which manages the country’s state-owned oil industry, expects oil production to reach 40 billion barrels by 2010 through a combination of domestic and foreign investments. Oil production averaged 2.6 million barrels per day (bb/d) in 2005 and Nigeria’s President Obasanjo has said publicly that he would like to increase that number to 3 million bb/d in 2006 and 4 million bb/d by 2010. With domestic oil consumption growing at 7.5 percent per year and economic expansion reaching an amazing 10.2 percent in the first quarter of 2006, resource-rich Nigeria is a natural partner for an energy-conscience Beijing.

In 2005, Nigeria signed an important US$800 million agreement with state-owned PetroChina to supply 30,000 barrels of oil a day to mainland China. In 2006, China National Overseas Oil Corp (CNNOC) invested US$2.3 billion for a 45 percent stake in the country’s Akpo field allowing the company to increase its daily oil production by 15 percent. CNOOC chief Fu Chengyu said the transaction was an important for the company to continue its global expansion. "The deal is perfectly aligned with CNOOC’s long-term strategy of achieving growth through the exploration and development of offshore fields and achieving geographic diversification of the company’s portfolio," Fu said. The investment was the largest for a state-controlled energy enterprise since China National Petroleum Corp’s (CNPC) US$4.2 billion deal for Asia’s PetroKazakhstan.

In addition to oil reserves, Nigeria holds approximately 185 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of proven natural gas reserves, making the country the largest natural gas holder in Africa and the seventh largest in the world. State-controlled NNPC estimates it will need approximately US$15 billion to meet its plans to increase production and exports by 2010.

In a move that will help Nigeria attract much needed foreign investment, the Obasanjo government announced this month that it would pay off its remaining multi-billion debt to the Paris Club, a group of lenders including the U.K., Russia and Germany, becoming the first African nation to settle with its lenders. The announcement is part of a larger plan by President Obasanjo for increased transparency. The combination of economic reforms and high oil prices have propelled the Nigerian economy forward, giving a important boost to Africa’s most populous country ravaged by years of domestic strife and the effects of military dictatorship.

But difficulties remain on the horizon that could temporarily disrupt Sino-Nigerian bilateral relations. Although the country’s economy has improved dramatically under President Obasanjo, it lacks diversity, with 95 percent to all government revenues generated from oil. Any unexpected disruption in energy exports could translate into serious problems for Abuja and foreign investors.

Moreover, vandalism has become worse over the past few months with attacks on Royal Dutch Shell’s pipeline in the Opobo Channel in December and subsequent attacks on the Brass Creek fields. Shell has estimated that 455,000 bb/d of its oil production has been shut down as a result of the attacks. Kidnappings of expatriate oil workers in the Niger Delta region by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) earlier this year have also increased concerns surrounding the security of the county’s energy infrastructure.

Problems aside, the bilateral relationship still holds tremendous promise for both countries. All told, China is considering approximately US$7 billion in various investments in the West African nation. "They [Chinese] understand our environment and that’s why they want to invest. We will continue to appeal to them to come and invest," noted Joe Anichebe, spokesman for BPE, Nigeria’s agency in-charge of privatization.

Sino-Nigerian relations have become closer as a result of China’s need for energy and Nigeria’s need for investment. As a result, the budding relationship will likely stimulate more intense rivalries between countries for access to energy resources on the continent. For the time being, however, President Hu is determined to look beyond potential conflicts; instead concentrating his diplomatic efforts on Nigeria with the hope that any short-term discomfort will be offset by long-term economic and energy commitments.

This article originally appeared in TCS Daily.

Nigeria ablaze

By David McCormack

It was hoped by many that President Bush’s meeting today with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo augurs a stronger relationship between the United States and Africa’s most populous country. The reality, however, is that a situation exists in Nigeria in which threats to U.S. interests are creating tremendous impediments to a viable partnership. If the U.S. does not act quickly, these challenges will become insurmountable.

Religious Strife

Most significantly, Nigeria — home to 60 million Muslims, roughly half the country’s population — has become one of the central battleground of Islamofascism’s war on Africa. Over the course of the last 30 years, foreign sponsors — namely Saudi Arabia, but including Iran and Libya — backed by treasuries overflowing with petrodollars have systematically exported extremist interpretations of Islam to the African subcontinent, significantly corroding the region’s temperate and progressive Islamic traditions.

Nowhere has the impact of this campaign been felt more greatly than in Nigeria. In the shake-up that followed liberation from military rule in 1999, twelve predominantly Muslim states in northern Nigeria took advantage of the central government’s weakened position and adopted legal codes based on full Shari’a. Characteristics of these Shari’a states include the severe marginalization of women and the institutionalization of punishments such as flogging and death by stoning. The new laws, moreover, are often applied regardless of a citizen’s faith and enforced by vigilante organizations modeled on those of Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The impact of the Islamist advance was on display recently (although it was almost entirely missed by the media) when violence ostensibly sparked by the publication of cartoons unflatteringly depicting the Prophet Muhammad claimed more lives in Nigeria than in the rest of the world combined. Sadly, the latest round of Muslim attacks followed by Christian reprisals only mimics on a tiny scale the pattern of violence that has gripped the country since the northern region’s Islamist turn. Most credible studies, in fact, suggest that 6,000 people have been killed in interfaith fighting since 1999.

While Western observers have been slow to recognize the dire implications of Islamofascism’s advance in Nigeria, America’s enemies have not. In a May 2003 tape, Osama bin Laden named Nigeria as one of six states "most eligible for liberation." And perhaps in a sign of times to come, in early 2004 a group of 200 militant Islamists calling themselves the "Taliban" waged a brief insurgency intended to establish an independent Muslim state along Nigeria’s border with Niger Republic. Only after several weeks of murder and conquest was the insurrection put down by the Nigerian army. The thought that U.S. foreign policy might have to contend with an Islamist state sponsor of terrorism based in West Africa is indeed frightening, though not farfetched given the state of affairs in Nigeria.

Ethnic Conflict

Despite the ferocity of religious turmoil in the country, it may not be Nigeria’s most immediate problem. Last month, the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND) — an ethnically-based militia operating in Nigeria’s oil-rich southern region — launched "Operation Dark February" (which carried over into March), promising to bring about an "Armageddon in the Nigerian petroleum history".

To make good on that promise, MEND destroyed an offshore loading platform and trunk line of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and kidnapped nine of the company’s foreign employees (including three Americans). Fearing continued attacks, SPDC announced it was temporarily shutting down operations that will amount to a production loss of 455,000 barrels per day — 19 percent of Nigeria’s output.

Unless competition for oil revenue — which accounts for roughly 20% of GDP, 95% of foreign exchange earnings, and 65% of budgetary revenues — by various ethnic groups can be mitigated, oil-driven attacks on the world’s eighth largest exporter and fifth largest supplier to the United States will likely continue apace, with devastating consequences for the U.S. and global economy. Given the Nigerian government’s abject failure to date to find a resolution, however, there is little reason to be optimistic.

China’s Charge

Absent communal friction, Nigeria’s energy sector would still prove highly problematic for American interests. Communist China’s global drive to dominate strategic energy resources has naturally attracted it to sub-Saharan Africa, from which it currently imports nearly 30 percent of its oil and natural gas. The PRC’s presence, unfortunately, has greatly abetted the scourge of Africa — corruption. As Mustafa Bello, head of the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission, recently admitted, "The U.S. will talk to you about governance, about efficiency, about security, about the environment….The Chinese just ask, ‘How do we procure this license?’"

Not surprisingly, then, Nigeria has been increasingly receptive to PRC energy forays. For instance, in its first major investment since its failed bid to take over Unocal last year, the Chinese state-controlled oil company CNOOC announced last month it will pay $2.3 billion for a 45 percent stake in a Nigerian oil field. As Iheanyi Ohiaeri, head of business development for Nigeria’s National Petroleum Corporation, explains, "We haven’t been totally invaded by China yet, but it will come."

Political Unrest

If the aforementioned matters weren’t enough to complicate the landscape, the government may face a rebellion in the very near term over an attempt to amend the constitution to permit those brought to power in the democratic elections of 1999 — including President Obasanjo — to serve a third term in office.

This is hardly a trivial development in a country ruled by strongmen throughout its post-colonial history. Mirroring the general understanding of Nigerian public opinion, an editorial in the independent newspaper Vanguard recently claimed officials are "haunted by the fear that a successor…may call them to account like they have done [to] others. The third term promoters would prefer to die in office than quit to face the reckoning of their own conduct in office." Already, public hearings on the constitutional review have sparked demonstrations that in some cities saw as many as 20,000 take to the streets.

To be sure, Obasanjo’s government has, by and large, been an ally of the United States, especially with regard to the war on terror. Nevertheless, the Bush Administration would do well to quietly prod Nigerian leaders to step down at the end of their second term to assuage the Nigerian public’s fear that a strongman will return to rule over them — and perhaps to hedge against that very occurrence.

The Bottom Line

This volatile mix of Islamofascist activity, ethnic division, and natural resources so abundant in Nigeria makes the country America’s greatest strategic concern in Africa. U.S. policy toward Nigeria — and Africa in general — has thus far, unfortunately, been one of general apathy, costing America dearly in terms of its strategic position.

Fortunately, a promising vehicle already exists by which the United States might safeguard its interests along with those of Nigeria and its neighbors. Established last summer, the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative (TSCTI) — partnering the U.S. with nine African countries — brings to bear the resources of the U.S. departments of Defense, State and Treasury along with those of the U.S. Agency for International Development, offering not only services such as expanded joint military training but also developmental assistance aimed at promoting good governance and encouraging the growth of civil society. However, TSCTI’s modest budget of $100 million per year is sure to limit its effectiveness.

Of course, the United States will need to do much more to secure its interests, such as increasing its miniscule public diplomacy budget for the region, and invigorating state-to-state diplomacy to deny foreign states the opportunity to advance harmful agendas. More than anything, America must awake to the fact that Nigeria — along with much of Africa — is an important piece of the international security framework.

Sudan’s Chinese guardian

By Fred Stakelbeck

Sudan’s brutal Islamist President Omar al-Bashir and Chinese President Hu Jintao have become fast friends as of late, forging a Sino-Sudanese alliance that has serious implications for the Sudanese people and the future stability of the African continent. "China has burst on the African scene with a presence that has been frightening to many people who hadn’t realized how wide its reach is," U.S. Representative Randy Forbes (R-VA), chairman of the new House China Caucus, noted in January.

The recent announcement by Beijing of a new Africa policy based upon the concept of "mutual fulfillment with no preconditions" has raised concerns in Washington by those who say that China’s Sudan foreign policy is manipulative and opportunistic; and that it ignores the displacement of an estimated 2 million Sudanese villagers and the murder of 180,000 others for its own economic gain.

In testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission in late 2005, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI) stated, "In Sudan, Chinese oil investments have helped to prop up a regime in Khartoum that our president and this Congress have accused of involvement in genocide."

While humanitarian issues have little value in Beijing’s new Africa policy, energy interests—and the military means to protect those interests—play important roles in the Red Dragon’s actions on the continent, particularly in poverty-ravaged Sudan.

China currently imports 7 percent of its oil from Sudan; making Sino-Sudanese relations an extremely important part of China’s evolving energy strategy. As a result, Beijing has blanketed Sudan with over $4 billion in investment over the past several years, hoping to secure long-term energy agreements, while increasing its economic, political and military influence in Africa. "Chinese investment and development in Africa has strong potential because Africa is abundant in natural resources, which are urgently needed for China’s economic development," noted Chinese Foreign Minister Li Guozeng recently.

Since 1996, numerous Chinese state-controlled enterprises have been hard at work in Sudan cultivating energy relationships. The state-controlled China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), which owns a 40 percent share in Sudan’s largest oil venture, the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, currently pumps 300,000 barrels per day, most of which is sent to mainland China. Sinopec, another energy enterprise, has completed an oil pipeline to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, where Chinese tankers ferry oil to China’s developing industrial cities. China’s Petroleum Engineering Construction Group has also been instrumental is the construction of a large tanker terminal at Port Sudan, as well as roads, bridges and dams.

To protect its vast energy investments in Sudan and to secure additional lands for energy development and exploration, China has readily supplied weapons to the Bashir regime, delivering F-7 jet fighters, assault helicopters and armored vehicles to the country.

With the help of its Muslim "Janjaweed" militia groups and the blessing of Bashir, the Sudanese Air Force has used Chinese-made weapons against defenseless villagers in Darfur. There have also been persistent claims by independent aid groups that Sudanese government troops and rebels have used Chinese oil company airstrips to conduct bombing raids on villages and hospitals.

On more than one occasion, China has purposely blocked the U.N. from taking punitive action against the murderous Bashir regime. In 2004, strong Chinese opposition forced the U.N. Security Council to tone down a resolution that would have referred the Darfur matter to the International Criminal Court. Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha told the country’s cabinet he had Chinese assurances the resolution would not be passed, "He [Taha] was confident it would not get through and told them not to worry," a cabinet source said.

Since that disappointing vote, Beijing has continued to use its permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council to protect Khartoum, pledging to veto any U.N. bid to impose an oil embargo on Sudan. Serious questions concerning China’s intentions in Sudan surfaced again last month, when Beijing announced that it was indefinitely delaying the deployment of a critical Chinese medical unit to the conflict-stricken Darfur region.

The upcoming China-Africa Summit, scheduled for later this year in Beijing, is a perfect opportunity for the U.S. to regain its footing on the Africa issue. With U.S.-Africa trade at approximately $45 billion a year and numerous U.S.-sponsored humanitarian and investment projects evident throughout the continent; the U.S. is not merely an interested African observer – it is a committed partner.

One question remains for Sudan’s tyrant Bashir: What will the thousands of entrenched Chinese nationals do in Sudan once the oil disappears?

This article originally appeared in FrontPageMagazine.com.

Recolonizing Africa

By David McCormack

The overthrow of Mauritanian president Maaouiy Ould Sid Ahmed Taya last month by a military junta calling itself the Council for Justice and Democracy passed almost without comment among Western observers. The little attention paid to Mr. Taya’s downfall and the failure to fully understand its broader implications underscore the West’s continued failure in Africa.

For decades, sub-Saharan Africa has been treated as nothing more than a dumping ground for humanitarian aid — an instrument the West occasionally employed to ease its collective guilt for slavery, colonialism and its own prosperity, only to turn its attention elsewhere as soon as that guilt was temporarily assuaged. This arrangement unfortunately obscured the mechanism by which the West might truly have invested itself in the region’s well-being. The fact that the subcontinent is an important piece of the international security framework, due primarily to the level of Islamist penetration it has experienced, has yet to sink in.

Precisely because the gaze of international security has neglected sub-Saharan Africa, the region presents itself as rather inviting to Islamists hoping to operate in obscurity. Its Muslim population of 250 million provides a massive base from which Islamists can draw support. Weak and corrupt states and economies make Islamist ideologies attractive to disenchanted populations. And porous borders and a steady flow of illicit arms contribute to an ideal operating environment for Islamists with militant appetites.

African Islam’s historically moderate traditions have been undermined in recent decades by the introduction of Islamist influences from foreign sources. The usual suspects — led by Saudi Arabia, Iran and Libya — have, over the last 40 years, gained a great deal of control over the Islamic message reaching sub-Saharan Muslim populations. A volatile mix of Wahhabism, Khomeinism and pan-Islamism has subsequently corroded African Islam’s temperance.

With Saudi Arabia leading the way, tens of billions of dollars have been poured into the region in support of Islamist activities. This money, among other things, funds mosques and madrassas that one Ethiopian journalist, Alem-Zelalem, in a 2003 article termed “jihad factories.” It also trains African clerics in extremism and even directly finances terrorism.

What’s more, Islamism’s advance often functions through nominally nongovernmental organizations. Saudi Arabia’s first attempt at continent-wide Islamist coordination, interestingly enough, took place in 1976 in Mauritania’s capital of Nouakachott under the auspices of the Riyadh-controlled Muslim World League. Saudi and other foreign-sponsored Islamist groups have since continued to operate in the country and throughout Africa.

An environment permeated with radical Islamic thought has, not surprisingly, created legions of terrorists and provided them a hospitable base of operations. In Mauritania alone, prominent international terror groups such as al Qaeda have established training camps, while lesser-known but nevertheless dangerous groups such as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat have emerged to wage jihad. In fact, al Qaeda along with other terrorist outfits such as Hezbollah have a continent-wide footprint — from Liberia to Eritrea to Tanzania — often linking up with local extremist groups such as al-Ittihaad al-Islami, which has terrorized the Horn of Africa, or Qibla, which operates in South Africa.

The U.S. and other Western governments can check Islamism’s designs on the region only by acknowledging that Africa is an important piece of the global security architecture. For its part, Washington could take a practical first step by establishing a separate military command for sub-Saharan Africa, as suggested by Gen. James Jones, currently charged with the military’s oversight of most of the subcontinent as the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe.

To its credit, the U.S. has begun to deploy troops in several African countries to train African forces to combat terrorism — including Mauritania, under what is known as the Pan-Sahel initiative (though it would be surprising if this exercise withstands the coup). Given America’s other priorities, however, it can scarcely afford a stronger military presence in Africa — a reality reveled in by militant Islamists. Fortunately, much can be done to demonstrate the strategic importance the West attaches to Africa without putting boots on the ground.

Efforts must focus on choking Islamism of its authority and popularity, an imperative for long-term security. Pressure should be applied on those states from the heart of the Muslim world that export Islamism. Similarly, pressure should be applied on African governments contributing to the continent’s democracy deficit that makes Islamism’s offer of empowerment appealing to frustrated populations.

While the ideological persuasions of the Mauritanian coup leaders are still unclear, the virulent Islamism that exists in the country should be cause for concern. It is disconcerting, at the very least, that those who overthrew Mr. Taya prefaced their announcement on the state news agency with the phrase “In the name of Allah.” Having observed the violence caused by the militarily-led Islamist regime in Sudan, one can imagine the results of another in Mauritania or elsewhere in Africa.

This article originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal Europe.

The red continent?

By Fred Stakelbeck

China’s rapid ascension as an influential economic and political force in Africa is raising complex questions concerning the security of the African continent and the future of its people. China’s involvement on the continent has increased dramatically over the past several years, fueled by Africa’s growing demand for cheap Chinese products and the need for greater infrastructure investment in the African energy and transportation sectors.

Africa possesses two key attributes which makes it an attractive investment for an expansionist China. First, it is a continent rich in the high-value, natural resources necessary to propel China’s maturing economy. Second, it offers a virtual sanctuary from American democratic ideology.

To many Africans, the prospect of increased cooperation with China is an exciting development laden with enormous opportunities for growth and prosperity. Many older Africans vividly recall how their homeland was exploited by Western interests who failed to empower local populations, leading to widespread human suffering that still exists today.

But will China, with visions of global influence and economic growth, act in a more constructive manner toward Africa, avoiding the mistakes made by its Western predecessors?

Unfortunately for many Africans, China’s record of resource exploitation and global obstructionism point to an uncertain future. China’s long record of human rights violations in Hong Kong and Tibet; suppression of religious and political freedoms; history of weapons proliferation; support of brutal regimes in North Korea and Iran; and its disregard for indigenous markets, raise legitimate questions regarding its long-term intentions on the continent and its commitment to the African people.

Recently, the London-based Africa Confidential Newsletter, a publication devoted to African issues, noted that it feared African countries would "become more corrupt by doing business with China." Gal Luft of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS) noted in November 2004, "The Chinese are much more prone to doing business in a way that today Europeans and Americans do not accept – paying bribes and all kinds of bonuses under the table, particularly in Nigeria, Angola, Chad, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea."

China’s emerging relationship with all of Africa is extremely important, however, it has taken on particular significance in two countries — Nigeria and Sudan.

Nigeria

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo’s visit to China in April, his third since being elected in 1999, further solidified relations between the two countries with agreements signed in the areas of political cooperation, telecommunications, bilateral trade and two-way investment.

Chinese President Hu Jiabao expressed his hope that the two countries would improve cooperation in the areas of gas exploration, manufacturing and infrastructure to promote a "fair and reasonable new international political and economic order." The players involved in Jiabao’s new "order" and its purpose remain a mystery to Western analysts; however, it almost certainly does not include the United States and the spread of democracy on the African continent.

President Jiabao also expressed his deep appreciation for Nigeria’s consistent adherence to China policy and its support of China’s Anti-Secession Law, adding to the unsettling nature of the growing bilateral relationship.

Nigeria’s economy is heavily dependant on oil, with 80 percent of government revenues coming from its sale. Nigeria is the largest oil producer in Africa and the eleventh largest in the world. It continues to be a major oil supplier to both Western Europe and the United States.

The January 2005 edition of Oil and Gas Journal reported that Nigeria produced 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2004 and was expected to increase production to 3 million bpd in 2006 and 4 million bpd by 2010. Obviously, this has pleased the Chinese who continue to invest boatloads of cash into the country’s energy sector.

In November 2004, China’s Funsho Kupolokum announced a joint agreement with Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to develop two oil blocks in the Chad Basin and construct a pipeline and refinery. In addition, Chinese oil giant Sinopec reached a joint agreement with NNPC in December 2004 to develop and explore two more oil blocks in 2005.

But not all agreements between the two countries have been energy related. In April, Nigeria reached an agreement with China to become the first African nation to purchase a Chinese communications satellite. The Dongfanghong IV will be launched in 2007 from the Xichang Space Launch Centre in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province.

This agreement merits close attention and in many ways is extremely troubling, since it clearly sets the stage for future exchanges of Chinese intelligence and technology between the two countries. Two other customers, Iran and North Korea, have used advanced technology supplied by Chinese firms in the development of nuclear programs. Could Chinese technicians one day work in tandem with a radical, Islamic-led Nigerian government on a plutonium reactor? Let’s hope not.

Adding to fears of a growing Chinese presence in Africa is a recent U.N. investigation which uncovered al Qaeda training and recruiting bases in western Nigeria. The West-hating, Saudi-sponsored Wahabbi strain of Islam has already moved into parts of Nigeria with the hope of establishing a Taliban sanctuary in Africa. Taken together, Chinese instigation and Islamic terrorism pose a serious security threat for the entire continent.

Sudan

The current Sudanese government consists of an alliance between the military and the National Congress Party (NCP) which promotes an Islamist platform. Recently, Islamic Sharia law was forcibly applied to all northern Sudanese states. "The current government is now a very pragmatic police state," said Ghazi Suleiman, a Sudanese human rights lawyer.

Like Nigeria, Sudan has enormous natural resources making it attractive to foreign investors like China, the European Union and the United States. An improved currency and sustained GDP growth of 6 percent have been encouraging, but Sudan remains crippled by $24 billion in external debt. This has forced the country to look to foreign investors for the development of its domestic industries, in particular, its oil and natural gas sectors.

In 1993, the U.S. designated Sudan a state sponsor of terrorism. In response, Sudan fostered a close relationship with China using oil revenues to buy Chinese tanks, planes and guns. These weapons were then used to suppress the country’s southern, non-Muslim minority. The military relationship between the two countries has gradually evolved to include economic issues, namely, energy exploration and production.

In August 2005, Sudan is expected to begin exporting oil from the Melut Basin as a result of cooperative work with Petrodar, a consortium of companies dominated by China’s state-run Sinopec. Sudanese Energy Ministry officials estimate proven reserves in the Melut Basin at 700 million barrels and total reserves at five billion barrels. Petrodar also helped build the Sudanese owned Khartoum Oil Refinery, recently investing $340 million to expand the facility.

Construction of the 2,500 megawatt Merone facility scheduled for completion in 2008 has been funded by China’s Harbin Power and several Arab interests. In addition, the Chinese government is financing 75 percent of the $200 million Kajbar Dam construction project which has received stinging criticism from environmental groups noting that the project is damaging the Nile ecosystem.

But Chinese involvement in the Sudanese energy sector has not come without a price. A 2003 Human Rights Watch report examining human rights abuses by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC), a majority owned Chinese energy concern noted, "GNPOC did not hire local southern Sudanese laborers [non-Muslim], even for the most menial work. Instead, Chinese and northern [Muslim] Sudanese workers were hired. Furthermore, such construction often entailed the violent displacement of local agro-pastoral people from their land, so that the necessary infrastructure could be put in place to develop the oil fields."

China’s deliberate support of the Sudanese government in the face of continued human rights violations in Darfur is disturbing not only to the Sudanese, but also to Africans and the international community. The country’s twenty-one year civil war between its northern Sunni Muslim population and southern non-Muslim population has taken the lives of more than 2 million people.

In early April, Harvard University responded to the ongoing genocide in the Darfur region and Chinese support of the Sudanese government by divesting from PetroChina, a subsidiary of Chinese Natural Petroleum Company (CNPC). "Oil is a critical source of revenue and an asset of paramount strategic importance to the Sudanese government and PetroChina is a leading partner of the Sudanese government," the university noted.

Christian Aid, a United Kingdom-based human rights organization, recently noted, "CNPC’s oil roads and airstrips were used to conduct bombing raids on southern Sudanese villages and hospitals." The organization also accused the Chinese company, through its continued investment in Sudan’s oil industry, of being "complicit in some of the worst scorched earth policies."

In the end, African leaders must assess their relationship with China very carefully, balancing the challenges of accelerated resource extraction with the future needs of the African people. It will also be important for Africans to hold China accountable for its actions on the continent. To ensure the fair treatment of all Africans, solidarity should be pursued through the African Union (AU) or the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD).

By taking this cautious approach, a destabilizing "re-colonization" of the continent will be avoided.

This article originally appeared in FrontPageMagazine.com.

African jihad

By David McCormack

The unfolding of events in Sudan in recent months – to say nothing of years – has provided conspicuous evidence of the brutality that is inevitably unleashed by Islamist regimes. Long engaged in a bloody drive to impose the dictates of radical Islam on Christians and animists in the southern part of the country, Khartoum has more recently turned on its co-religionists in the Darfur region in a genocidal campaign.

Despite the attention being paid to Sudan, the West has yet to recognize that jihad is being waged for the whole of Africa. Traditionally, African Islam has been characterized by tolerance and moderation and made vital contributions to the region in education, commerce and government. But this progressive orientation has been imperiled in recent years by the introduction of Islamism – a movement intent on bringing society and state into conformity with radical interpretations of the religion. Sub-Saharan Africa has proved tremendously useful in advancing this agenda: Its Muslim population of about 250 million provides a massive base from which Islamists can draw support.

Weak and corrupt governments and economies allow Islamist ideologies to become alluring to African Muslims. And porous borders, a steady flow of illicit arms and obscure financial systems contribute to an ideal operating environment for Islamists with militant appetites.The usual suspects, led by Saudi Arabia and including Iran and Libya, have been almost solely responsible for the introduction of Islamism to the region. Billions of dollars have been invested in Africa by these states, funding mosques and madrassas that one Ethiopian journalist termed "jihad factories," training African clerics in radicalism and even financing terrorism.

Islamist successes in Africa are manifest. Since 1999, 12 predominantly Muslim states in northern Nigeria have begun to codify sharia – Muslim law based on the Quran – sparking Christian-Muslim violence in which thousands have died and threatening the viability of Nigeria. In Kenya, where Muslims make up only 10 percent of the population, a separate Islamic legal system is likely to be enshrined in the constitution following a threat by one of the country’s most influential Islamists, Sheik Ali Bin Mayaka, to "fight up to the end with all ways … even if it means to seek help from our fellows around the globe." These are just two examples of many.

Islamism’s successes foreshadow the terrible implications of its continued expansion. It jeopardizes steps toward social progress by legally marginalizing women and non-Muslims, inhibiting democratic government and violating accepted standards of human rights. It hinders economic development by creating an unstable environment for investment and growth, and it facilitates inter-communal strife that leads to violence on a massive scale.

African Islamism also poses a direct threat to Western security and economic interests. An unstable environment permeated with radical Islamic thought has, not surprisingly, begun to create a hospitable environment for terrorists with an international agenda.Already, prominent international terror groups such as al-Qaida and Hamas operate extensively in Africa, while lesser-known but nevertheless dangerous groups have emerged to wage jihad south of the Sahara. Additionally, the rise of Islamism threatens to disrupt the flow of oil and natural gas from the region – a significant share of the world market – while discouraging investment in untapped reserves that could lessen dependence on Middle East supplies.

The United States has already deployed troops in several African countries, including Mali, Mauritania, Chad and Niger, to hunt terrorists and train African forces to combat terrorism. But with other priorities, the United States can scarcely afford a stronger military presence in the region.

Efforts must focus on choking radical Islamism of its authority and popularity, an imperative for long-term security. Pressure must be applied on exporters of Islamism to stop funding radicalism, and greater consideration must be given to alleviating local conditions that make Islamism alluring. Terrible as the situation is, Sudan only hints at African Islamism’s potential for destruction.

This article originally appeared in the Baltimore Sun.

An African vortex

Although not widely considered an African faith, roughly one fifth of the world’s adherents to Islam reside in sub-Saharan Africa.  The religion, well established on the subcontinent for more than a millennium, made vital contributions in the spheres of education, commerce and government.  Its largely peaceful spread and incorporation of local traditions, moreover, led to the development of an African Islam characterized by syncretic Sufi practices, tolerance and moderation.

This temperate, progressive orientation has become imperiled in recent years by the introduction of Islamism – a movement intent on bringing society and state into conformity with radical interpretations of the religion.  Sub-Saharan Africa has proved tremendously useful in advancing this agenda: its Muslim population of roughly 250 million (for a breakdown see appendix A) provides a massive base from which Islamists can draw support; weak and corrupt governments and economies allow Islamist ideologies to become alluring to African Muslims; and porous borders, a steady flow of illicit arms and obscure financial systems contribute to an ideal operating environment for Islamists with militant appetites.

While numerous terror groups operating in the region are the most conspicuous manifestations of the Islamist advance, these entities disguise the primary method employed by Islamists in their move on Africa.  Far from advocating immediate, armed revolution, Islamists have become extremely adept at exploiting local conditions to advance their agenda through political and social warfare.  With its long list of socio-political demands, Islamism must necessarily attack the status quo.  Hence, Islamism in Africa has resulted in the corrosion of moderate-Islamic and secular traditions.

Islamism’s impact to date foreshadows the terrible implications of its continued expansion.  It jeopardizes steps toward social progress by legally marginalizing women and non-Muslims, inhibiting democratic government, and violating accepted standards of human rights – phenomena that are unmistakably correlated to the increasing intrusion of shari’a (Islamic law) on African society.  Such trends, furthermore, have led to inter-communal violence on a massive scale.

And while much attention is paid to the possibility that poverty encourages Islamism, markedly less consideration is given to Islamism’s facilitation of poverty.  By creating inter-communal strife and dueling systems of law (one of which, shari’a, is by no means growth-friendly), Islamism discourages the very investment that has the potential to pull Africa out of the economic abyss.

African Islamism also poses a direct threat to Western interests.  An atmosphere permeated with radical Islamic thought has, not surprisingly, begun to create a hospitable environment for terrorists with an international agenda.  Already, prominent international terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda and Hamas operate extensively in Africa, while lesser known but nevertheless dangerous groups have emerged to wage jihad south of the Sahara.

The story of Islamism in sub-Saharan Africa is complex and ominous.  Moreover, it has largely been unexplored, likely the result of the region’s longstanding status as an inconsequential piece of the global security architecture.  The nature of the Islamist threat mandates the abandonment of that concept.  Islamism is gaining ground in sub-Saharan Africa to the detriment of Africans and Westerners alike.

 

View the full paper (Web)

View the full paper (PDF)