Monday, August 31, 2009

Rumble in the Jungle

Animoil Farm

A Crying Shame

Tales of hypocrisy in government are nothing new. Kenyan politicians seem to have crafted it into an art. But, I humbly submit, they don’t hold a candle to their counterparts in the West. For example, you may recall American howls of protest when captured soldier Bowe Bergdahl appeared in what the US military described as a Taliban propaganda video. "They are exploiting the soldier in violation of international law," spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker said, apparently unaware of the irony that the US itself had for years ignored “international law” in its treatment of Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners. However, the latest furore over the early release of alleged Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi and his heroic reception in Libya surely takes the biscuit.

In 2002, following trial in a Scottish Court sitting at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, Al-Megrahi was convicted of planting the bomb that exploded aboard Pan Am Flight 103 as it overflew the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing 270 people. His appeal against the conviction was rejected on technical grounds. After serving more than nine years of his life sentence, he was released on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer, with doctors giving him less than a month to live. Megrahi always protested his innocence and following the rejection of his appeal, Professor Hans Köchler, one of five UN observers appointed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, condemned the proceedings as a politically motivated "show trial" and "a spectacular miscarriage of justice". None other than Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, who drew up the 1991 indictment against the two accused Libyans and issued warrants for their arrest, has cast doubt upon the reliability of the main prosecution witness, Tony Gauci. Lord Fraser criticised the Maltese shopkeeper for being "not quite the full shilling" and an "apple short of a picnic". Robert Black QC, professor of law at Edinburgh University, who played a key role in convincing Libya to hand over al-Megrahi and his co-defendant, al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah for trial, believes that al-Megrahi should never have been found guilty. And in 2007, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) which had been looking into the case since September 2003, determined that "a miscarriage of justice may have occurred"

In fact, evidence points to the framing of Libya as a scapegoat for the bombing. In 2005, a retired senior Scottish police chief gave defence lawyers a signed statement, which confirmed the claims made in 2003 by a former CIA agent that his CIA bosses actually wrote the script to incriminate Libya. He accused American intelligence agents of planting a circuit board fragment, identified as part of a sophisticated explosive timing device made by Swiss firm Mebo and only supplied to Libya and the East German Stasi. In December 2008, the UK’s Daily Mail reported that new forensic analysis on the fragment found no trace of explosive residue. A source close to the investigation summed it thus: ‘The only piece of forensic evidence in the chain that pointed to Libyan guilt has never been near the seat of an explosion.’

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Tam Dalyell, the former Labour MP who played a crucial role in organising the trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, declared that Libya had nothing to do with the bombing. He accused Iran of contracting the Popoular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC) to carry out the atrocity, in retaliation for the downing of an Iranian civilian airliner by a US Navy warship.

On July 3, 1988 Iran Air Flight 655 was shot down by the U.S.S. Vincennes killing all 290 passengers and crew as the plane flew over the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. In spite of the fact that the US ship was at the time of the shooting operating illegally in Iranian territorial waters, the plane was flying within an internationally recognised air corridor, and the US military issuing a statement holding the crew accountable for the shooting, the US refused to apologize and to accept responsibility and liability for the incident. At a news conference on 2 August 1988, then-Vice President George H. W. Bush declared, "I will never apologize for the United States of America — I don't care what the facts are". There was nothing in the way of punishment for the crew of the Vincennes. On the contrary, they were awarded combat-action ribbons. The air warfare coordinator on board, Lt. Cmdr. Scott Lustig, received a commendation medal for his ability to "quickly and precisely complete the firing procedure"--the same firing procedure that shot down Flight 655. In February 1996 the US agreed to pay Iran US$ 61.8 million in compensation ($300,000 per wage-earning victim, $150,000 per non-wage-earner) for the 248 Iranians killed in the shootdown in a successful bid to discontinue a case brought by Iran in 1989 before in the International Court of Justice. This, by the way, pales in comparison with the US$10 million per family compensation paid out by Libya over the Lockerbie incident. Effectively the family of each adult victim on board Pan Am 103 received 33 times the equivalent sum of the family of each victim on Flight 655, whilst each child or senior citizen on Flight 103 got 66 times the amount received by the families of their counterparts on Flight 655.

In an article published in The Guardian, John Ashton and Ian Ferguson, authors of Cover-up of Convenience - the Hidden Scandal of Lockerbie, claim that according to the CIA, within days of the downing of Flight 655, Iran had hired the Syrian-based PFLP-GC to avenge the incident. The group had close ties to the Lebanese Islamic radicals Hizbullah and in the early 1970s specialised in bombing airliners. The group manufactured at least five barometric bombs designed to blow up aircraft, two - possibly more - of which were built into Toshiba radio-cassette players. Six weeks before Lockerbie, police raided the PFLP-GC gang and found one of the Toshiba bombs. Three of the other bombs were recovered four months after Lockerbie, but the second Toshiba was never found. However in the wreckage of Pan Am 103 fragments of the suitcase believed to have contained the bomb were recovered, together with parts and pieces of circuit board identified as part of a Toshiba Bombeat radio cassette player. In fact, a week before, the US state department had circulated a specific warning that radical Palestinians were planning to attack a Pan Am target in Europe.

So what interest did the CIA have in covering all this up? Well, according to Ashton and Ferguson, western intelligence sources claim the Lockerbie bomb was planted in the luggage of Khalid Jaafar, a Lebanese-American mule in a heroin trafficking operation. Apparently, elements within the CIA had been allowing Middle Eastern dealers to ship drugs to America in return for help in locating and releasing US hostages. Following the bombing, there were reports that large quantities of what appeared to be heroin had been found: one on a Lockerbie golf course and the other in a suitcase discovered by a farmer a couple of miles to the east. It appears that by allowing suitcases containing heroin to bypass security procedures, the CIA gifted the traffickers' terrorist friends a foolproof means of getting the bomb on the plane. (The farmer was never interviewed by police and in a 1992 reply to a query by Dalyell, Lord Fraser, stated that no drugs had been found, save for a small quantity of cannabis.)

Also, among the Lockerbie victims was a party of US intelligence specialists, led by Major Charles McKee returning from an aborted hostage-rescue mission in Lebanon. A variety of sources have claimed that McKee, who was fiercely anti-drugs, got wind of the CIA's deals and was returning to Washington to blow the whistle. A few months after Lockerbie, reports emerged from Lebanon that McKee's travel plans had been leaked to the bombers. The implication was that Flight 103 was targeted, in part, because he was on board.

To sum it all up, in an effort to cover up its complicity, the West conspired to put an innocent man in jail, extorted US$2.7 billion (over Kshs. 200 billion) from his country under the guise of compensation and now sheds crocodile tears over his release. The US government that awarded medals to the killers of 290 innocent Iranians now condemns the celebrations over the release of an innocent Libyan. And countries that have for a long time proclaimed themselves paragons of virtue have turned out to be no better than the third world tyrannies they are so fond of criticizing. Perhaps they should first consider removing the log from their eye.

It now turns out that Al Megrahi's release was itself part of a deal between the UK and Libya so the former could access the latter's oil supplies. The rape of Tripoli continues...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Live G8

I'm reposting the article below only because it was published in The East African:

The Black Man’s Burden: How Africa Subsidises The West
Last week Kenya’s prime Minister Raila Odinga was cheered when he declared that we in Africa do not need any lectures from the West. He was speaking in advance of US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s arrival for the AGOA summit and, of course, lectures are exactly what the African leadership got. Perhaps the greatest favour that Clinton’s visit would do us is if it led our potentates and their hapless subjects to ask one question. Why is Africa poor?

Our continent's penury has been proclaimed far and wide. Governments, NGOs, the media and celebrities alike have taken to the rooftops to weave their sorry tale of Africa's woe. We've all heard the statistics. To quote just a few: More than 300 million people south of the Sahara have to survive on less than a dollar a day. Two thirds of the poorest countries in the world are in Africa, as are 34 of the 35 states with the lowest life expectancy. However this is at best a misrepresentation of the true story and at worst a deliberate attempt to mask the real and fundamental cause of the continent’s underdevelopment.

Africa is possibly the largest producer of raw materials in the world. Our mineral and agricultural resources are what keep the rest of the world churning. Many of the world's largest corporations make their money on the backs of African peasants who receive little in return for their labour. For example, according to the Global Policy Forum, we (together with our brothers-in-alms in Asia and Latin America) grow the coffee that drives a $70 billion global business and accept only $6 billion for our troubles. African countries harvest about two-thirds of the world's cocoa (the main ingredient for the $75 billion chocolate industry), mine 21 percent of it's gold, control nearly 17% of its oil reserves. Kenya alone is home to fully 10% of the world’s unexploited titanium reserves which some have valued at $11 billion. Yet only 1 percent of the world's wealth is created in the region between the Sahara and the Cape of Good Hope.

How do we explain this seeming paradox? First, let us disabuse ourselves of this notion that Africa is poor. Africa is not poor. We lack because what we have is freely given away to the developed world. For example, in what was then described as “an unprecedented act of generosity”, the Government Kenya in 2006 gifted the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Company Ltd (CNOOC) exclusive rights over a total of six out of 11 available oil exploration blocks, after which the Chinese held an auction in London and sold off the concessions. In the case of the titanium find, Kenya’s colonial-era Mining Act stipulates that mining companies pay only 5% of the value of the minerals to the government. According to Haroun Ndubi of Kituo cha Sheria, "a developed country… would be talking about a third of the value of the mineral deposits.” (I should also add that it is doubtful that any developed country would allow $11 billion to sit in the ground for 15 years while its citizens starved.)

In these and other ways, Africa effectively subsidise the industrialized world’s economies to a scale that dwarfs any of the agricultural subsidies paid to farmers or any amount of aid that they would favour us with. And it doesn't stop there. We spend our money training countless doctors, nurses and other professionals only to freely send them to work in the West. We receive "aid", promptly return it in payments to the "donor" nation's companies, and then are paradoxically still left with a debt whose interest payments are mind-boggling. Between 1970 and 2002 the countries south of the Sahara received a total of $294 billion in loans. In the same period of time they paid back $268 billion, and accumulated, after interest, a mountain of debt amounting to $210 billion.

Who is responsible for this state of affairs. Not the perennial scapegoats, the West. The truth is that the blame lies squarely with us Africans because we tolerate the situation and accept the rationalizations that support it. We agree to sell our raw materials on the cheap and cough up to buy back the processed stuff. We accept that the major international commodity exchanges be in the Western capitals that don't produce any commodity. We faithfully obey the dictates of a patently skewed market; we take the aid that is no aid at all but a form of internationally sanctioned loan-sharking; we buy the weapons that slaughter millions in pointless wars while at the same time we are busy sending peacekeepers to police the war zones of Europe. We rip off our brethren then stash their hard-earned money away in foreign banks, boosting foreign economies. This is the real Black Man's Burden - our largess.

The West, though, has no interest in solving our root problem because as we have seen, it benefits a great deal from it. So they foist on us all sorts of agenda and after a lot of soul-searching and wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth, they also provide us with the solutions. More aid (specifically 0.7% of their GDPs- that's 7 cents out of every $10). Some debt cancellation. More talk on market access and subsidies. Anything to avoid dealing with the central inconsistency of an entire continent sitting on a mountain of wealth and living off a pittance. In spite of the obvious contradiction, our governments and NGOs fall over themselves to implement the latest proposals, gratefully accepting crumbs as their benefactors in the West continue to feast on bread made from our wheat.

In defining the agenda, the West succeeds in owning the problem. It never ceases to amaze me that any show on Africa by the TV networks always ends up interviewing some white guy from the West. According to the Washington Post, "when the foreign media descend on the latest crisis, the person they look to interview is invariably the foreign savior, an aid worker from the United States or Europe. African saviors are everywhere, delivering aid on the ground. But they don't seem to be in [the West's] cultural belief system." Anti-poverty shows always feature plenty of rich whites bemoaning the open sore that is Africa and a token black (probably an "enlightened" Aids victim or a survivor of some horrible famine) representative of the redemption a donation a few dollars can buy.

Bob Geldof's Live 8 provides this telling scene as related by Margo Kingston. "Geldof introduced a young Ethiopian woman whose photo we saw from 20 years earlier when she was ten minutes away from death. But the moment was quickly lost; not even here could the audience be trusted with time for memory and reflection. ‘Live’ overruled Life. The young woman was led onstage to stand by as a prop to Madonna’s Like a Prayer. There was no Miriam Makeba on hand to embrace this African sister. A life ‘saved’ but now ready to aspire to the West’s idealized image."

Like the poor Ethiopian, we have become props to the West's struggle with its conscience. Africa is the stage where they seek absolution for their past misadventures as Parsaselo Kantai amply demonstrates in his insightful article, Death of a Kenyan Dream. They do so, not to relieve our suffering, but theirs. In this drama, the African has been assigned his stock role of "the noble savage" needing to be rescued from himself while the West is cast as the heroic, self-sacrificing (the whole 7 cents) harbinger of civilisation.

Having accepted our role and donned the costume of moral and material bankruptcy, we have come to rely on them for answers to everything. When a parastatal is insolvent, bring in some Westerner and hey presto! Problem solved. Endemic corruption? Why, let’s get some Western “experts” to advice us. Famines and disease? Here come the white messiahs riding on their standard issue luxury 4X4s (and receiving hefty allowances to compensate them for the hardship of exchanging a council house in London for a palatial residence in Muthaiga with several servants thrown in). Faltering economies? Blame the whole thing on slavery and colonialism. Claim reparations. Sue their imperialist asses. Wait for the handout. Thus Western guilt and greed conspires with African naivet√©, incompetence and thievery.

Africa needs to wake up and wrest back the problem. It is our problem, not the West’s. The solutions will come from us, not them. "Fair trade", debt relief, removal of subsidies and "aid" cannot be anything other than a band-aid on a gaping wound. We need to extract ourselves from a global trade system that is bleeding us dry. Africa needs to be run for the benefit of Africans, not modern-day imperialists. The Virginia Center for the Teaching of International Studies whose central purpose is to enhance the teaching of international studies in Virginia's middle and high schools, thinks that Grade 8 kids in the US should be able to "identify minerals in Sub-Sahara Africa, explain how man uses these minerals and how developed nations need these minerals, identify minerals that are strategically important and examine factors that limit Sub-Sahara Africa from becoming more industrialized and using these mineral resources themselves (italics mine). I would recommend the same course to Raila and his fellow heads of governments.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Do We Really Need A New Constitution?

In the 90s, amid stringent calls for a people-driven constitution, Kenya embarked on a startlingly unique adventure: to replace its current constitution with a spanking new one. 2 decades and several billion shillings later, the journey seems no closer to completion. Throughout all this, one thing has remained a mystery to me. The called for changes could have been achieved far more cheaply and quickly through a series of Constitutional amendments enacted by Parliament without having to start the whole process from scratch. So why did we chose the vastly more expensive, and ultimately unfruitful, option? What's wrong with piecemeal amendments?

In a word: nothing. The 90s debate over "piecemeal" or wholesale people-driven constitutional reform obscured an important fact. The current constitution is itself the result of numerous amendments to the Independence constitution. In fact, in the 30 years between 1963 and 1992, the Kenyan constitution was amended 28 times. In contrast, in the same period the US amended its constitution all of 4 times, and has only done so on 27 occasions throughout its 200 year history.

Though the changes to our constitution have been of a piecemeal variety, they have rewritten the power map so dramatically as to have the effect of creating a new constitution. A comparison of the Independence and present constitutions bears this out. This was achieved in a relatively short time and at little expense. There was no collection of views, no referendums required to endorse the outcome. However, no one doubted the validity and legitimacy of the consequent document. And the attempt to replace it has highlighted another of its core strengths, a prerequisite for any successful constitution: it has proven resilient in the face of numerous attacks on it. It survived despite the overwhelming national consensus that we needed a new one. Despite its many failings, it has kept us together as a nation and, I think, we should not be in too much of a hurry to cast it aside.

Some will doubtlessly argue that piecemeal amendments would have suited our dear politicians who are only too fond of (ab)using the document to settle their political differences. After all, they would point out, the fact is the majority of the amendments to the Kenyan Constitution have addressed issues that were not of a constitutional nature.

According to “Amending the Constitution -Learning from History”,
a paper presented by Dr. Githu Muigai at an International Commission of Jurists conference in 1992, the concept of the constitution and of constitutionalism were, to begin with, completely alien to Kenya. "The colonial order had been one monolithic edifice of power that did not rely on any set of rules for legitimization. When the Independence constitution was put into place it was completely at variance with the authoritarian administrative structures that were still kept in place by the entire corpus of public law. Part of the initial amendments therefore involved an attempt - albeit misguided - to harmonise the operations of a democratic constitution with an undemocratic and authoritarian administrative structure. Unhappily instead of the latter being amended to fit the former, the former was altered to fit the latter with the result that the constitution was effectively downgraded."

However, the comprehensive reform route has fared no better. For example, another reason for the constitutional amendments of the 60s and 70s was to strengthen the executive and through it the provincial administration as a possible panacea for the instability of the KANU Government. The divisions within the party and government were dealt with as if they posed constitutional issues. Sound familiar? In this decade we have seen this re-enacted. The debate in Bomas over the proposed powers of the office of the Prime Minister was largely defined by the divisions within the NARC coalition. The infamous MoU, a power-sharing agreement between politicians, was suddenly the centre of a constitutional controversy. In fact, the 2005 referendum was less about the Constitution, and more about the internecine struggles within NARC.

In the light of the foregoing, it is plain that the long-term process of shaping and reinvigorating our constitution has been hijacked by the short term interests of the political classes. And while our politicians are not to be relied on when it comes to promises of a new constitution, in the service of their stomachs they have demonstrated that piecemeal changes are a most efficient means of effecting change.

Over the last 15 years, we have witnessed a number of amendments that have improved the constitutional climate without requiring referendums and view-collecting. Now, as the Committee of Experts on Constitution Review sets about spending a further 300 million to tell us what we already know, perhaps we should rewrite their mandate. Why don’t they simply propose certain specific amendments to the current constitution, which amendments Parliament could speedily (and inexpensively) undertake? Thus we can quickly ring in badly needed renovations to our constitutional facade before the next elections.