Monday, July 21, 2014

The Coming Calamity, The Coming Resistance





The Coming Calamity, The Coming Resistance

Currently, the world is facing a number of problems, politically, socially and economically. While we may be paying attention to important stories such as the Islamic State’s movements in Iraq and the ongoing fighting in the Gaza Strip which are extremely important, there are dealings being made behind our backs of which we know virtually nothing about. There are major international trade deals in the works and the government seems to be getting prepared for the fallout.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has its roots in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) organization. In 1994, APEC stated in its Bogor Declaration that:

With respect to our objective of enhancing trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific, we agree to adopt the long-term goal of free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific. This goal will be pursued promptly by further reducing barriers to trade and investment and by promoting the free flow of goods, services and capital among our economies.
[…]
We further agree to announce our commitment to complete the achievement of our goal of free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific no later than the year 2020.[1] (emphasis added)

Furthermore, in the free trade agreement between the US and Singapore both leaders made a statement in 2000 in which they stated that both countries “are committed to APEC’s Bogor Goals of free and open trade and investment by 2010 for industrialized economies and 2020 for developing economies.”[2] Thus we can see that some sort of trade deal has been sought after for quite some time and logically, it would be much easier to have a regional trade deal between APEC nations rather than individual trade deals among the many countries in the region.

The TPP itself, originally had nothing to do with the United States, rather it was a trade deal between Chile, New Zealand and Singapore and Brunei which was signed in 2005. The US became involved three years later and officially joined the TPP in 2009.[3]  However, this leads to the question: If the trade deal was originally between four Asia Pacific nations, why did the US feel the need to become involved?
According to Deborah Elms, head of the Temasek Foundation Centre for Trade & Negotiations, the US became involved for three reasons:

1) A trade agreement between the European Union and South Korea bolstered the argument for greater US economic intervention in the region.

 2) Alternative trade configurations were starting to be discussed such as ASEAN plus China, Japan and Korea. If these were to become a reality, the US would end up being sidelined from Asian markets.

3) “The TPP gave the United States a seat at the economic table in Asia in a way that these alternatives did not. It represented a better platform for meaningful engagement than the only remaining configuration—somehow coaxing APEC to do more.”[4]

The last point is further backed up when one looks at the US President's 2008 Annual Report on the Trade Agreements Program, which read that “US participation in the TPP could position US businesses better to compete in the Asia-Pacific region, which is seeing the proliferation of preferential trade agreements among US competitors and the development of several competing regional economic integration initiatives that exclude the United States.”[5]

However, there is also much more to the story than just not wanting to be locked out from Asian markets. US geopolitical interests are also involved as well. The aforementioned annual report also stated that “Apart from economic considerations, there are also geopolitical  concerns, particularly with regard to the growing power and influence of China, something which became clearer with the Obama administration's policy announcement of a military and diplomatic 'pivot' or 'rebalance' towards Asia” and a US Congress research paper noted that the TPP would have regional effects for the US, especially when one factors in that “the region has served as an anchor of US strategic relationships, first in the containment of communism and more recently as a counterweight to the rise of China.”[6] (emphasis added)

Jane Kelsey, a professor of law at the University of Auckland, argued that the TPP had “very little to do with commercial gain and everything to do with revival of US geopolitical and strategic influence in the Asian region to counter the ascent of China” and that the US wanted to “isolate and subordinate China in part through constructing a region-wide legal regime that serves the interests of, and is enforceable by, the US and its corporations – and in the TPPA context, what the US wants is ultimately what counts.”[7] Many in China seem believe that the TPP indeed is meant to harm China, with it being reported that "official media have suspected that the deal has more insidious goals than simply forging a trade alliance, accusing the US of corralling Pacific nations against Beijing’s interests.”[8]

While many praise the Trans-Pacific Partnership as free trade, one must be wary not only due to the geopolitical aspects, but also due to it being so secret that “often times, members of Congress and Parliament are denied access to them, even though the agreement will set out legal obligations that these elected officials will be expected to meet.”[9] However, the TPP is not the only secretive trade deal currently being discussed. There is also the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

A transatlantic partnership between the US and Europe has been in the works for quite some time. In 1995, the US mission to the European Union stated that it wanted to “create a New Transatlantic Marketplace by progressively reducing or eliminating barriers that hinder the flow of goods, services and capital” and that the US and EU would “carry out a joint study on ways of facilitating trade in goods and services and further reducing or eliminating tariff and non-tariff barriers.”[10]

The idea of focusing on Europe economically was pushed by those who thought that, due to the Cold War being over, the US should shift away from examining Europe through a military lens. Robin Gaster and Alan Tonelson wrote in The Atlantic that the military-view of Europe “completely misreads the nature of America's post--Cold War interests in Europe, and has resulted in a deepening transatlantic rift on both the security and the economic front” and that “the United States and Europe urgently need to develop a NATO-like forum for handling economic issues.”[11] While this argument isn’t for a US-EU free trade agreement, it still signals that to some, there needed to be a shift in the US relationship with Europe.

However, that quickly changed as some began to argue for a deeper economic integration between the transatlantic partners. In 1997, Ellen L. Frost, a then-senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, proposed to the to the House Subcommittee on Trade (part of the House Ways and Means Committee) the creation of a North Atlantic Economic Community which would be “a framework combining APEC-like trade and business initiatives with a NATO-like strategic, political-economic orientation” and would “establish a deadline for free and open Transatlantic trade and investment (say, 2010) on a Most Favored Nation Basis.” She argued that the Community “should span not only trade and investment but also macroeconomic coordination, monetary policy, exchange rates, and other financial aspects of the transatlantic relationship, as well as trade and investment.”[12]

The very next year, in May 1998, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair announced in a press conference that “we have launched a major new transatlantic trade initiative, the Transatlantic Economic Partnership, which will further add momentum to the process of developing what is already the most important bilateral trade relationship in the world. We've also agreed to work ever more closely together to promote multilateral trade liberalization.”[13]

The push for a transatlantic economic partnership has continued into the present day, both by individuals and organizations. In 2006, an article was penned in Der Spiegel which argued that “The role NATO played in an age of military threat could be played by a trans-Atlantic free-trade zone in today's age of economic confrontation” and that such a partnership would “help reduce the slope of Asia's ascent and prevent our flight paths from crossing too frequently.”[14]

In 2012, “BusinessEurope released a report to contribute to the EU-US High Level Working Group entitled, Jobs and Growth: Through a Transatlantic Economic and Trade Partnership, in which it was recommended to eliminate tariffs and barriers, to trade in services, ensure access and protection for investments, ‘opening markets,’ to establish ‘global standards’ for intellectual property rights, and to build on the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC) for regulatory cooperation.”[15]

While both of these ‘free trade’ partnerships are quite worrisome, there is still the Trade in Services agreement which has recently come to light.

Trade in Services Agreement

The TiSA is so new and so secretive that barely any information can be found about it. Public Services International, a global trade union federation, issued a report in April 2014 discussing the origins of TiSA, stating:

The TISA appears to have been the brainchild of the U.S. Coalition of Service Industries (CSI), specifically its past president Robert Vastine. After his appointment as CSI President in 1996, Vastine became actively involved in services negotiations. The CSI initially endorsed the Doha Round and seemed to be optimistic in the early stages of negotiations, but when the target deadline passed in 2005, the CSI became increasingly frustrated. Vastine personally lobbied developing countries for concessions in 2005 and continued to try and salvage an agreement until at least 2009.

By 2010, however, it was clear that the WTO services negotiations were stalled. In mid- 2011, Vastine declared that the Doha Round “holds no promise” and recommended that it be abandoned. Vastine was also one of the first to suggest, as early as 2009, that plurilateral negotiations on services should be conducted outside the framework of the WTO. Working through the Global Services Coalition (GSC), a multinational services lobby group, the CSI then garnered the support of other corporate lobbyists for the TISA initiative. The TISA is a political project for this corporate lobby group.[16]

Some of the actual effects TiSA would have were released in June 2014 by Wikileaks. In the leak, it explained that TiSA would have horrendous effects on public services. TiSA would “lock in the privatizations of services-even in cases where private service delivery has failed-meaning governments can never return water, energy, health, education or other services to public hands,” “restrict a government's right to regulate stronger standards in the public's interest,” “restrict a government's ability to regulate key sectors including financial, energy, telecommunications and cross-border data flows,” and “limit the ability of governments to regulate the financial services industry at exactly the time when the global economy is still recovering from a crisis caused by financial deregulation.”[17] (emphasis added) This trade agreement not only has the power to allow corporations free rein and to truly be unrestricted in doing whatever they please, but also to put the public in massive danger via permanently privatizing public goods.

However, this brings up the questions of what exactly is the Coalition of Services Industries, what involvement do they have with TiSA, and who is Robert Vastine?

According to its website, the Coalition of Services Industries is an organization representing the interests of the US service economy and aims at “expanding the multilateral trading environment to include more countries and more services, enhancing bilateral services trading relationships, and ensuring competitive services trade in the global marketplace.”[18] Among its board of directors are people such as Zubaid Ahmad, the Vice Chairman of Institutional Clients Group and Member of Senior Strategic Advisory Group of Institutional Clients at Citigroup and Jake Jennings, Executive Director of International External Affairs at AT&T. It represents companies ranging from Walmart to JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup to Google, Verizon, and AIG. In many ways it represents a variety of interests, virtually all of whom benefit from worker subjugation and/or economic deregulation.

The Coalition of Services Industries is part of the TiSA Business Coalition (aka Team TiSA) which is “dedicated to promoting and advocating for an ambitious agreement which eliminates barriers to global services trade, to the benefit of services providers, manufacturers and farmers, and consumers globally.”[19]
Now, with regards to Robert Vastine, in 2012 he retired from the presidency of the Coalition of Services group and is currently a senior industry fellow at the Center for Business and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.[20] He is quite known for having stated in 2011 at the Doha Round, a round of negotiations among the members of the World Trade Organization with the aims of achieving “major reform of the international trading system through the introduction of lower trade barriers and revised trade rules,”[21] that the talks were a waste of time and “hold no promise.”[22]

However, he already had problems with the Doha Round talks as he stated in 2005 in the Global Economy Journal that “High expectations for substantial reductions in barriers to services trade emerged from the 1997 negotiations, but thus far remain unfulfilled” and that “a Doha Round that does not contain substantial benefits for services is a Round that will have failed.”[23] Thus, it is no wonder that he is a supporter of TiSA.

The effects of these trade agreements will be horrendous for millions of people around the world, but especially the poor and working-class, much of whom are more vulnerable to these agreements as few have the money needed to learn new skills and adapt to the changing economy. For them and many in what remains of the middle class, if these trade agreements become a reality, it will result in a global race to the bottom in which, among them, there are no winners.

All of these trade agreements, however, are being done all the while the police are becoming increasingly militarized and the Pentagon is preparing for a mass breakdown in society.

Police Militarization

We have recently been seeing an increase in coverage of the militarization of the police and a number of stories reveal this. It was reported in July 2014 that the Albuquerque police purchased 350 AR-15 rifles[24] and the American Civil Liberties Union released a report in which they found that the police are often being used incorrectly and actually creating violence as “SWAT teams today are overwhelmingly used to investigate people who are still only suspected of committing nonviolent consensual crimes. And because these raids often involve forced entry into homes, often at night, they’re actually creating violence and confrontation where there was none before.”[25]

Police are also acquiring military-grade weaponry. A New York Times article written in June 2014 noted that “the former tools of combat — M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers and more — are ending up in local police departments, often with little public notice” and that “During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.”[26] The situation also has the potential to get increasingly strange as it was reported that a drone which can shoot pepper spray bullets at protesters had been developed by a company in South Africa.[27] Unfortunately, however, police militarization isn’t anything new.

A study was conducted in 1998 which “found a sharp rise in the number of police paramilitary units [PPUs], a rapid expansion in their activities, the normalization of paramilitary units into mainstream police work, and a close ideological and material connection between PPUs and the U.S. armed forces. These findings provide compelling evidence of a national trend toward the militarization of U.S. civilian police forces and, in turn, the militarization of corresponding social problems handled by the police.”[28] (emphasis added) The study found that this increased militarization would lead to three problems:

1)    It would reinforce “the cynical view that the most expedient route to solving social problems is through military-style force, weaponry, and technology.”[29]

2)    The militarist-feel could potentially infect the police on an institutional level, noting that many police departments have specific paramilitary units to deal with patrolling, drugs, and suppressing gangs.

3)     Most PPUs don’t solely react to already existing emergencies which require their level of skill, but also “proactively seek out and even manufacture highly dangerous situations” and these “units target what the police define as high crime or disorderly areas, which most often are poor neighborhoods.”[30]

Furthermore, police militarization in many ways doesn’t make sense as we have seen a decrease in the amount of crime, but it does make sense when we acknowledge the fact that most of the victims of police militarization are the poor.

According to the 2003 Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) annual crime report, violent crime in America has declined by 3 percent since 2002, and declined some 25 percent since 1994. Aggravated assaults, which make up two-thirds of all reported violent crimes, reportedly declined for the tenth consecutive year. The 2003 annual crime report also revealed that property crimes had declined 14 percent since 1994.

Similar findings of a historic decline in the violent crime rate in America over the past decade were also reported in other government studies. One such study that provided supporting evidence of this declining violent crime rate was the United States Justice Department's annual survey of crime victims, released in September 2004. This report revealed that the nation's violent crime rate was at its lowest point since their study of crime victims began, in 1973. However, even with this reported decline in violent crime there still remained throughout suburban communities a perceived threat of being victimized by violent acts of crime, perpetrated by the urban underclass.[31] (emphasis added)

We can further see that there is a war on the underclass in the form of police militarization as a study in 1997 found that SWAT teams “were characterized by the deployment of military special operation weapons, such as Heckler and Koch MP5 submachine guns, diversionary devices, and the wearing of tactical body armor and camouflage uniforms” and that often those resources were used “in daily and routine policing activities against the urban underclass.” One can even go so far as to say that “the use of special weapons, military tactics, and the wearing of combat style uniforms in the course of routine urban policing by street-level law enforcement officers would suggest that they are engaged in an actual urban war with the enemy being the urban underclass.”[32]

This increased cooperation between the police and military should have us wonder: What exactly is the Pentagon up to?

The Pentagon

The Pentagon is actively preparing for civil unrest and a breakdown of society. The organization currently has a research program which “is funding universities to model the dynamics, risks and tipping points for large-scale civil unrest across the world, under the supervision of various US military agencies” and earlier this year awarded a project to the University of Washington which “seeks to uncover the conditions under which political movements aimed at large-scale political and economic change originate,’ along with their ‘characteristics and consequences.”[33] However, like with police militarization, this has been going on for a while.

In 2008, it was noted that “A U.S. Army War College report [warned that] an economic crisis in the United States could lead to massive civil unrest and the need to call on the military to restore order.”[34] The use of the military to quell civil unrest was also discussed in Directive No. 3025.18, the Defense Support of Civil Authorities. The directive was rather interesting in that it stated that “Federal military forces shall not be used to quell civil disturbances unless specifically authorized by the president in accordance with applicable law or permitted under emergency authority,” however, later the document reads that federal military commanders are able, “in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the president is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances,”[35] (emphasis added) under two conditions. The two conditions are when the military has “to prevent significant loss of life or wanton destruction of property and are necessary to restore governmental function and public order” and “when federal, state and local authorities are unable or decline to provide adequate protection for federal property or federal governmental functions.”[36] This is quite vague in the sense of who defines what “significant loss of life” or “wanton destruction of property” is? What exactly does “adequate protection” for federal property and/or governmental functions mean?

Unfortunately, this isn’t just occurring in the US, but also in Europe as well. It was reported in July 2014 that “European governments are working together to prepare to militarily suppress social unrest. This effort—involving legal, technical, as well as military plans—is in an advanced stage of development, according to a report by Aureliana Sorrento that aired on June 20 on Germany’s Deutschlandfun k radio station.”[37] Just like the US, the Europeans also utilize vague language, saying that a disaster “is defined as ‘any situation that has harmful repercussions on human beings, the environment or wealth assets.’”[38]

 However, among all of this preparation and secrecy, there is mounting resistance to these trade deals. In December 2013, 30 protests were held across the US and Mexico, with people voicing their opposition against the Trans-Pacific Partnership.[39] The World Development Movement, a UK-based group fighting poverty and inequality, noted that “Campaign groups and trade unions announced plans for Europe-wide protests on 11 October against the deal, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Campaigners also launched a ‘Citizens’ Initiative’ petition to the European Commission with the aim of gathering one million signatures against the deal.”[40]

We are beginning to resist against the secretive trade deals and police militarization, but we must go further. We have to also reject the governments, no matter how large are small their facilitation or complicity may be, as they are being used as tools in a corporate agenda meant to oppress us even further. The calamity may soon be coming, the question is, will you resist?





 


Endnotes

1: Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, 1994 Leaders' Declaration Bogor Declaration, http://www.apec.org/Meeting-Papers/Leaders-Declarations/1994/1994_aelm.aspx (November 15, 1994)

2: US Government Printing Office, Joint Statement by President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong on a United States-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/WCPD-2000-11-20/pdf/WCPD-2000-11-20-Pg2885.pdf (November 16, 2000)

3: Office of the United States Trade Representative, TPP Statements and Actions to Date, http://www.ustr.gov/about-us/press-office/fact-sheets/2009/december/tpp-statements-and-actions-date

4: Deborah Elms, “US Trade Policy In Asia: Going For The Trans-Pacific Partnership?” November 26, 2009 (http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2009/11/26/u-s-trade-policy-in-asia-going-for-the-trans-pacific-partnership/)

5: T. Rajamoorthy, “And Then There Were Twelve: The Origins and Evolutions of the TPPA,” Third World Resurgence, July 2013, pg 4

6: Ibid

7: Jane Kelsey, “TPP As A Lynchpin of US Anti-China Strategy,” Scoop, November 19, 2011 (http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1111/S00171/tpp-as-a-lynchpin-of-us-anti-china-strategy.htm)

8: Shawn Donnan, David Pilling, “Trans-Pacific Partnership: Ocean’s Twelve,” Financial Times, September 22, 2013 (http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/8c253c5c-2056-11e3-b8c6-00144feab7de.html?siteedition=intl#axzz37adFOqTN)

9: Cory Doctorow, “Trans Pacific Partnership Meeting Switched From Vancouver to Ottawa, Ducking Critics,” Boing Boing, July 2, 2014 (http://boingboing.net/2014/07/02/trans-pacific-partnership-meet.html)

10: United States Mission to the European Union, Transatlanic Relations, http://useu.usmission.gov/new_transatlantic_agenda.html (December 5, 1995)

11: Robin Gaster, Alan Tonelson, “Our Interests In Europe,” The Atlantic, August 1995, pgs 28, 31

12: Peterson Institute for International Economics, Transatlantic Trade: Towards a North Atlantic Economic Community, http://www.iie.com/publications/testimony/print.cfm?ResearchId=286&doc=pub (July 23, 1997)

13: The American Presidency Project, The President’s News Conference With European Union Leaders in London, United Kingdom, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=55983 (May 18, 1998)

14: Gabor Steingart, “A NATO for the World Economy: An Argument for a Trans-Atlantic Free-Trade Zone,” Der Spiegel, October 20, 2006 (http://www.spiegel.de/international/a-nato-for-the-world-economy-an-argument-for-a-trans-atlantic-free-trade-zone-a-443306.html)

15: Andrew Gavin Marshall, Large Corporations Seek U.S.–European ‘Free Trade Agreement’ to Further Global Dominance, http://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2013/05/12/large-corporations-seek-u-s-european-free-trade-agreement-to-further-global-dominance/ (May 12, 2013)

16: Public Services International, TISA Versus Public Services, http://www.world-psi.org/sites/default/files/documents/research/en_tisaresearchpaper_final_web.pdf (April 28, 2014)

17: CNBC, Secret Trade Deal Puts Public Services at Risk Around the World, http://www.cnbc.com/id/101773881 (June 19, 2014)

18: Coalition of Services, Who We Are, https://servicescoalition.org/about-csi/what-is-csi 

19: Coalition of Services, The TiSA Business Coalition, https://servicescoalition.org/about-csi/team-tisa

20: Georgetown University, J. Robert Vastine, http://cbpp.georgetown.edu/staff/j-robert-vastine/

21: World Trade Organization, The Doha Round, http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/dda_e/dda_e.htm

22: Claude Barfield, “It’s Time To Dump The Doha Development Round,” Real Clear Markets, August 25, 201(http://www.realclearmarkets.com/articles/2011/08/25/time_to_dump_the_doha_development_round_99212.html)

23: Robert Vastine, “Services Negotiations in the Doha Round: Promise and Reality,” Global Economy Journal 5:4 (2005), pg 1

24: Travis Gettys, “Highly-criticized Albuquerque police militarize with $350,000 purchase of 350 AR-15 rifles,” Raw Story, July 11, 2014 (http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/07/11/highly-criticized-albuquerque-police-militarize-with-350000-purchase-of-350-ar-15-rifles/)

25: Radley Balko, “New ACLU Report Takes a Snapshot of Police Militarization in the United States,” Washington Post, June 24, 2014 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2014/06/24/new-aclu-report-takes-a-snapshot-of-police-militarization-in-the-united-states/)

26: Matt Apuzzo, “War Gear Flows to Police Departments,” New York Times, June 9, 2014 (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/09/us/war-gear-flows-to-police-departments.html?_r=0)

27: Hack Read, “Riot Control” Drone Will Shoot Pepper Spray Bullets At Protesters, http://hackread.com/riot-control-drone-shoots-pepper-bullets/ (June 22, 2014)

28: Peter B. Kraska and Victor E. Kappeler, “Militarizing American Police: The Rise and Normalization of Paramilitary Units,” Social Problems 44:1 (1998), pg 12

29: Ibid

30: Ibid

31: Daryl Meeks, “Police Militarization in Urban Areas: The Obscure War Against the Underclass,” The Black Scholar 35:4 (2006), pg 37

32: Ibid, pgs 37-38

33: Nafeez Ahmed, “Pentagon Preparing For Civil Breakdown,” The Guardian, June 12, 2014 (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/jun/12/pentagon-mass-civil-breakdown?CMP=twt_gu)

34: Diana Washington Valdez, “Unrest Caused By Bad Economy May Require Military Action Report Says,” El Paso Times, December 29, 2008 (http://www.elpasotimes.com/ci_11326744)

35: Bill Girtz, “Inside the Ring: Directive Outlines Obama's Plan to use the Military Against Citizens,” Washington Times, May 28, 2014 (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/may/28/inside-the-ring-directive-outlines-obamas-policy-t/?page=all)

36: Ibid

37: Dennis Krassnin, “European Governments Prepare For Military Suppression of Popular Opposition,” World Socialist Web Site, July 10, 2014 (http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/07/10/euro-j10.html)

38: Ibid

39: Truthout, 30 Cities Across US Protest Toxic Free Trade Agreements, http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/20457-30-cities-across-us-protest-toxic-free-trade-agreements (December 5, 2013)

40: Miriam Ross, “Opposition to EU-US Trade Deal Gathers Negotiation as Talks Falter,” World Development Movement, July 17, 2014 (http://www.wdm.org.uk/trade/opposition-eu-us-trade-deal-gathers-momentum-negotiations-falter

Friday, June 20, 2014

Talking Anarchism with Anarchist Memes

The following is the transcript of a recent interview I had with the administrators of the Facebook page ' Anarchist Memes.' In the interview we discuss the creation of the Anarchist Memes page, anarchism as it relates to social media, and how people can learn about anarchist thought.


1. How did the Anarchist Memes page come to be?

[Ao]: Anarchist Memes was originally the brainchild of an Australian Wobbly who was experimenting with using social media, and image macros in particular, to spread anarchist ideology. When the page began to draw a lot of attention, he assembled a small team of wobblies and other anarchists he knew online from around the globe to begin keeping up with the demand for images and moderation, as well as to begin giving the page a more serious edge by more regularly posting news and information. The page grew more quickly than anyone had imagined and soon a couple admins became a team of over 30 moderators.

[E]: It should probably be noted here that the current admin collective is actually a "second founding" of sorts. Many of the current admins were added around the same time, in response to a rather controversial situation including a former admin who was removed from the page.

[Ao]: Indeed, this is when we became a 'collective' rather than a loose team and restructured our decision making processes to reflect that democratic and horizontal character. Many of us have been around for a variety of time spans, ranging from 2.5 years to a couple of months depending on the individual admin. This isn't to suggest the page was originally an authoritarian creation, simply that it wa small enough for ideological agreement not to be much of an issue. We now represent a much larger section of anarchist thought than we did in the earliest days of the page. This has its benefits and downfalls, but as someone who has been around since the very early days of the page, I'm happy to see us finally functioning as cohesive group with formal processes and a range of ideas (though we have some mandatory principles of agreement), rather than a small team who always seemed to agree on everything. Constant consensus can be a curse when it kills discussion.

2. What kind of activities does the page engage in to promote anarchist thought and discussion amongst its members?

[k]: Well, we certainly try to share news articles, opinion pieces, literature, and of course, image macros (we are Anarchist MEMES after all) but that's really surface level stuff. Posting these things in itself tends to instigate conversation amongst fans of the page that we tend to moderate and occasionally join. What I think really works is when admins engage in the conversation and suggest class struggle organizations or any other radical organization to join after briefly getting to know the participants. Whether it's an IWW local or a branch of an anarchist federation or a nearby chapter of the Torch Network, our crowd is the type that wants to get involved and, to borrow a bit of a liberal line, "create real change." Discussion is all fine and dandy, but if we're limited to that we're just another group of assholes standing around a burning building talking about the best way to put it out. Getting people actually involved and active, that's the bee's knees.

[E]: We take quite a bit of care to very specifically and decisively critique reactionary norms within anarchist spaces, too. As many have probably noticed, we take a very strong stance against transphobia, ableism and anti-feminism. Complete internal condemnation of such attitudes has to start somewhere, and we're not swayed by the (oft-repeated) argument that such things 'create division' within 'the movement'. Racism creates division, sexism creates division, transphobia creates division. If someone thinks themselves an anarchist but are not ready to face these facts and change their praxis accordingly, them feeling alienated is not a loss, it's a win.

The main goal is always to have people self-criticize and understand how their own reactionary actions and modes of operation can hurt the ability of revolutionaries to organize among the oppressed sections of society. We've been rather successful in this capacity, and we do get quite a few people sending us messages thanking us for being so hardline about stuff like this. Either because they come from a background where they feel marginalized by many self-termed 'anarchist' spaces (the ones we are critiquing) or because they used to not see the problems inherent in, for example, anti-feminism, and do now because we refused to shut up and had them look up theory to try and argue against it. Stubbornness is sometimes a virtue it seems.

3. Why do you think that a social media platform for anarchism is needed as compared to a physical platform?

[E]: I've always disliked the assertion that there is some sort of great divide between 'the real world' and 'the internet', like you have to sacrifice a goat and cast some sort of incantation to cross over into the digital world. It's a very silly assertion that the two are entirely separate, and don't impact each other in any way whatsoever, and yet a lot of people are acting like that is the case. I've seen a lot of people post stuff like "don't take it so seriously, it's just the internet" and I'm like, why? How does the fact that something is on the internet make it any less a part of 'the real world'?

For me, this understanding that what is said and done on the internet is still said and done in 'the real world' makes it very obvious that we need a presence on social media as well if we want our outreach and propaganda to be effective. Quite a few people have taken to shaming, for example, introverts because they 'limit their social life' to 'the internet' rather than 'the real world', which I think is a laughable position. If we actually look at the way things are today, a lot of our social interactions take place online, and we're at a point where this trend exists for almost all groups in industrialized society. Just turning away from that is a waste of potential.

Those people who, back in 1900, would stand on a soapbox on the streets and spread political radicalism, those people have started using social media. Those people did not do that because the streets were 'more real'; it was just the most effective way to spread their views. Don't limit yourself to 'old' platforms, go where the people are, use whatever platform is most efficient. Since so many people are on Facebook and so many of our social interactions take place on Facebook, it only makes sense to create a platform for anarchist outreach and propaganda on Facebook. It helps that Facebook is comparatively easy to use, free, and despite all its flaws, it still manages to get the word out better than shouting at people on the streets or selling physical newspapers would.

[Ao]: Social Media is extremely powerful in current times, especially for youth. As centers for meeting and information sharing have begun to fade from the real world, creating online community is essential to spreading and perpetuating a living ideology. Social media is cost free and is not labor intensive, yet it is a primary way many people find information and events and therefore is essential for spreading ideas and awareness. Many still see anarchists as angry bomb throwing kids without real ideas or organizing, as years of government and corporate propaganda has portrayed us. If we wish to dismantle these ideas and show others that anarchists are serious revolutionaries whose ideas are grounded in a 250+ year theoretical tradition, we must go to where the people are.

Marx once said something along the lines of 'the capitalist will sell us the rope with which we will hang him', and I believe this is essential advice. The government, the corporate media, the right wing, and other agents of disinformation and propaganda utilize social media,so we must do an even better job if we wish for our ideas to be heard. We must not be afraid that facebook is a 'capitalist device'.

We live in capitalism, we must use what it offers us to tear it down and build something new. The beautiful thing about social media, as opposed to mainstream media or books, is that it is user driven, and that we do not need to bring a profit to producers or anyone else to exist. As long as people visit our page and share our posts, our ideas will be seen. Additionally, social media is free and easy to use. That means we can reach those who are curious about anarchist ideas, but who are not yet ready to, for example, buy a book on anarchism, or attend a lecture they may not yet know how to find.

This is, of course, not to say that an online platform is more important than a physical platform. We should be striving to create as many physical anarchists spaces as possible. Nothing is as good as physical organizing. That doesn't mean we shouldn't utilize everything we can to spread our ideas- we should. That's why, although sometimes I find myself more focused on my organizing here in my community, I still think Anarchist Memes has an essential role to play in spreading anarchist thought and inspiring others to become involved in their own communities.

[k]: Same reason we thought newspapers and leaflets were the way to go in the late 1800's and through the 1950's and zines were important from the 60's to today. Gotta put information out where the people have interest in seeing it. Over 750 million people use Facebook every day. 500 million tweets are sent each day. Through any number of the 170+ million Tumblr blogs, every day there are about 100 million unique posts. That kind of potential can't be ignored. It's high time to evolve.

[OM]: In addition to what was said by my fellow admins, organization and propaganda via the internet has two added major benefits:

1. It transcends regional and national boundaries rather easily compared to other forms of organization and propaganda. Looking at globalized capitalism, the importance of international organization cannot be over-estimated for Anarchism. Contemporary Anarchism, at least in my country (Germany) often lacks international orientation, and usage of the internet is often hindered by technophobia and IT illiteracy.

2. For people with disabilities and those who live away from active Anarchist circles, participating online is often the best (or even the only way) of participating. As an example: due to a neurological condition, I am impaired in my auditory processing, which can make face-to-face interaction difficult for me, while online communication is comparatively easy.

4. What are some of the problems from both Facebook and other users that you all have to deal with? Do you have plans to deal with Facebook if it again represses the page?

[k]: With the 750+ million daily users on Facebook, you're gonna get some shitty people. We field everything from racism, sexism, transphobia, ableism, and all that shitty verbal stuff to porn, gore, abuse of women, abuse of children, and sometimes combinations of the above. We've dealt with nazis, MRAs, Rothbardian capitalists, TERFs, you know, assholes. It's a daily thing. We've earned ourselves the nickname "Banarchist memes" amongst a lot of these groups because we take a "no platform" stance to this type of asshattery and remove these elements as quickly as possible. Even with a relatively large admin staff, we don't always have enough eyes to catch all of it, so even with the "Banarchist Memes" nickname floating around, there's a contingent that thinks we don't care enough to rid our space of the filth. It's a lose-lose sometimes, but we try, and for the most part I feel we do pretty well.

[D]: We even have our own "Shit Anarchist Memes says," courtesy of the groups [k] mentioned above. There are infamous familiar faces that appear outside of AM, on other anarchist pages, which can be a bit disheartening when we make that effort to keep the reactionaries out. It's a bit like, "First I had to read your horrible stuff as an admin, now you're going to spout it here, too?" Outside of Facebook, or the internet, if you exclude someone problematic from the group, then you're much less likely to see them again shy of something that warrants a restraining order.

[OM]" We have already been taken down once by facebook and the page has only been restored after a major outcry. As precautions, we have spread to other internet platforms, including twitter and our own internet forum at anarchistmemes.org.

And as my fellow admins have stated, the complaints about our safer space policy can get really annoying and removing the people violating definitely is a stressful and repetitive task.

[E]: We've still got the most output on our Facebook page, though, by far. At the high point of our 'seeking out other platforms' phase (don't know if that's the correct word to use, but bear with me) right after our initial takedown we even had a Team Fortress 2 and a Minecraft server for a while. Go where the people are, and all that. In the end, we reach by far the majority of our subscribers on Facebook, and as such we primarily focus on Facebook.

5. How do you think that social media can actively combat the stereotypes about anarchist thought?

[k]" Well, first we have to establish a real foothold. I mean the left needs pages that contend with things like "I Fucking Love Science" or George Takei's fan page. We get a great following, but it's a lot of preaching to the choir, pissing off the jerks, and not enough of bringing in new blood. We get people saying we were their gateway to the ethos, but it'll never be enough people. The last "anarchist" tidbit that really went viral was a local news video of some kids bloc'd up during May Day this year. They all screamed their "fuck you"s to the local reporter

"We're out here to combat the bourgeois liberal notion of a market state and we think your media organization plays into that idea. We're here to combat capitalism in all its forms, which is why most of the people here are not willing to talk to you. This International Workers Day contingent is hellbent on exemplifying the ethos that rule of law is another shackle to break free from, and only horizontal government - truly by the people - is best for the worker. You don't need your boss, you don't need your congressperson, you don't need your president, they all need YOU."

That's what pages on the left need to be instilling in these people taking to the streets. Educating people on how to speak about anarchism to non-anarchists (even though I'd consider that bloc non-anarchist, that's another story) is paramount. With silly kids running around spray painting circle-As on things and screaming obscenities at their local reporters, our message is entirely lost. That's where the stereotypes come from, and that's the type of people social media can reach.

[E]: Yeah, whether we like it or not, the media will be watching. Having some media awareness is key in situations where you will have media attention. We need to get better at "PR", to put it another way.

6. Does Anarchist Memes work with other pages and in what fashion?


[E]: We do have a relationship with quite a few pages, such as Lesbians And Feminists Against Transphobia, Fuckin' A, Green Anarchist Agency, Still Laughing At "Anarcho"-Capitalism and so on. Most of the time it's not really all that organized, it's very informal, and I don't want anyone to get the idea that it's like, an iron-bound alliance or anything, because that's about as far from the truth as it can get. We like their work, we share some of their stuff, sometimes they share some of our stuff, sometimes we post on each others pages as our pages, and so on.

[Ao]: Many of us also have personal relationships with admins on other pages and network with them directly, sharing the news and information which each of us deem most important to spread. Again, this is rather informal, but it helps to spread the most essential and time sensitive information quickly and effectively.

[OM]: In addition, quite a few of us also admin other pages like those mentioned by [E].

7. How do you encourage people to get into the streets or organize/advocate in their own communities?

[Ao]: Anarchist Memes has always been dedicated to bridging the gap between the online and physical world by inspiring others to learn about and discuss anarchism online was well as to organize in their real lives. Admins regularly post organizing guides, different ideas of ways to get involved, and opportunities to join activists online and in person. Admins also regularly reach out to followers of the page for their organizing questions, tips, and ideas to keep the page as participatory and relevant as possible. Many admins even choose to update followers of the page on their own organizing efforts to inspire them to do the same, as well as to receive support and advice. Above all, we regularly remind our followers that while we appreciate their likes and comments, online activism is never enough on its own, and that they must be even more involved offline as they are online if they wish to make a difference.

[E]: With that said, there are people who can't organize physically in a dedicated organization, for one reason or another (be it health issues, lack of opportunity, lack of time, or something else) and are pretty much limited to either online organizing or day-to-day awareness building and propaganda. We try to have something for that portion of our subscribers as well.

8. What is the best way for people to learn more about anarchism as a political philosophy ?

[Ao]: There is no one best way to learn about anarchism. While we believe our organizing must always be grounded in theory, we also believe theory will remain stagnant if we do not learn from our real life organizing efforts. Those new to anarchism may want to start off by reading some basic theoretical texts, but the best way to learn is often from those more experienced than us, so we encourage even the newest of anarchists to find their local anarchist organizations, get involved, and to ask questions. We don't learn from pretending to know all the answers, we learn from admitting what we don't yet understand. That being said, revolutionary discipline is essential. There is no excuse not to read, not to understand the ideology which you are seeking to organize towards. I only wish to make it clear that sitting in your bed and reading about organizing will not teach you how to be an effective organizer. For that, you have to get your hands dirty.

[E]: As for specific places to find theoretical texts and explanations of anarchist ideology and theory. If that is what you happen to be looking for, I find that 'An Anarchist FAQ' and its reading list is a great place to start out. I would advise anyone with even the slightest interest to check it out. The struggle, to an extent, is also an intellectual struggle.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

On Israel, Palestine and the Media: An Interview with Harry Fear

On Israel, Palestine and the Media: An Interview with Harry Fear

By Devon Douglas-Bowers

Below is a transcript of a recent email interview I conducted with independent journalist, activist and filmmaker Harry Fear. Mr. Fear has made a number of documentaries regarding the Gaza Strip and has done reporting directly from the area.

 1. What made you become interested in journalism and specifically the Israel-Palestine conflict?

I believe strongly in the power of documentary and news video to expand people’s perceptions and move people. Video can powerfully portray situations of human suffering to audiences, and Westerners so often are in desperate need of being woken to acknowledge international injustices.
The Israel–Palestine conflict, as a prime and long-lasting international injustice, has been both personally and intellectually important to me, since I was at high school. The geopolitical dynamics of the conflict continue to steal my attention and journalistic intrigue. The liberal, advocacy journalist inside of me refuses to remain neutral in the face of war crimes and terrorism, which feeds into my work ethic and agenda. It’s a deeply impassioning conflict and as my work on the ground has continued my personal connection to the conflict and its suffering has depended too.

2. When you first went to Palestine, what was the ongoing situation and how were you greeted? How did you go about conducting work and how does that compare to now when you go to Palestine?

I first visited Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank in early 2010, arriving as a photojournalist and working as an internet marketing volunteer for an Israeli NGO. Two years later and I visited Gaza, entering via Egypt. Within a few hours of arriving in Gaza, militants had been killed in targeted drone strikes, of course injuring civilians too. Back then in summer 2012, escalations of violence regularly afflicted Gaza, and the Israeli and Egyptian siege continued to hold back the economy and people’s morale. I worked to produce a handful of independent video reports, to try to redress the lack of video news emanating from Gaza, with young Palestinian translators.

Producing news from the Strip presents unique challenges, and over the months I developed an appropriate operating method that works well, to overcome the technical, linguistic, cultural and logistical constraints, of working in a very social conservative environment, with for example only a few hours of electricity per day.

Since I first visited Gaza, the situation has generally improved, in as much as cross-border violence is now at a near-zero level. However, on the other hand, the blockade has actually worsened dramatically, inasmuch as there is now no Palestinian civilian entry or exit into Egypt or Israel. The 1.9m Palestinians in Gaza are literally imprisoned in a tiny strip of land, essentially as punishment for voting for Hamas in their 2006 legislative elections.

When I first visited Gaza, it was easy for internationals to travel between Gaza and Egypt via the infamous Rafah border crossing. Since Egypt’s President Morsi was ousted last summer, the border has been permanently closed and only opened a few times for small trickles of Palestinian pilgrims and emergency humanitarian cases to cross. Now, ordinary internationals like myself (who aren’t working for a registered international aid agency) can’t easily access Gaza at all. Although, in the coming weeks we’re hoping to see dramatic improvements, with the hopeful reopening of the Egyptian border, now that both Egyptian and Palestinian politics are stabilising. Egypt has just elected former military chief Abdelfattah Al-Sisi. Palestinian factions have just formed an interim ‘reconciliation government’, before instigating desperately-needed elections.

Despite my being of a different country, background, race and language, my passion and love for Gaza and for the Palestinians’ just cause is evident in the way I engage with people in the Strip. I’ve always enjoyed getting along well with Palestinians I’ve met and worked with. My experience has been that almost all those I’ve met are extremely keen to tell their personal and national stories and have them transmitted as loudly and as far as possible. Generally, I’ve been treated incredibly kindly, with open arms and hearts by ordinary Palestinians. Some people have been suspicious and cynical – others even abusive of my work – but they’re in a tiny minority. Never have I seen such human hospitality as in Gaza.

3. The US media consistently generalizes that all Palestinians support attacks on Israel and hate Israel. Since you have been there, what have you seen to be the reality of the situation with regards to people's support for attacks on Israel and feelings regarding Israel?

Western media is guilty of shallow generalizations that steal from their viewers a chance at understanding the basic Palestinian narrative.

Certainly in Gaza, there’s no denying that there is hatred for Israel, because of its decades of ethnic cleansing and violent land theft policies towards Palestinians. So Gazans usually refer to Israel as simply ‘the occupation’, to deny legitimacy to the state that was established on the remains of Palestinian villages that were cleansed in the late 1940’s.

There is no doubt that during times of war with Israel and during flash points, ordinary people appear to be overwhelmingly in favor of the attacking Israel in ways that constitute terrorism under the laws of war.

Back in November 2012, after Israel launched its most recent full-scale operation on Gaza, once the ceasefire was agreed, Palestinians celebrated, arguing that their militant groups had hit back and successfully hurt Israel, making Israeli society feel some cost for attacking Gaza. The logic here is that if Israel is made to pay a price when it strikes Gaza, it will deter further attacks. Recent history shows that there is at least some discernable cohesion to that military argument.

Having said all of that, if you ask what Palestinians ultimately desire, it’s clear that people generally seem to desperately want a just resolution that simply offers a peaceful and prosperous human existence.

4. Do you think that independent journalists like yourself are having an impact on the way the Israel-Palestine conflict is viewed?

There is a positive impact being made, especially in making available new insights and hidden facts to increasingly broad audiences.

Social media technology and the latest internet platforms do allow for fairer chances for smaller outlets (and even one man bands like myself) to reach the public in numbers that facilitate sustainable and professional work. Meanwhile, the traditional news networks are increasingly relying on independent stringers and activists in this age of social media reporting, and this helps indie-journos with exposure.

There is a very long way to go, and the dominant channels are fighting strong in this new age in which news is gathered and consumed in ever-changing ways. But I see the trend as positive, exciting, and good for the development and broadening of journalism and democracy.

5. With this conflict it seems that there are only two options, Israel or Palestine. Are there any other ways in which people can push for peace without siding with either country?

It’s true that the conflict can be very polarizing, but you can find positions of genuine neutrality, and there are ways of straddling the two sides.

One way is to stand by international law, which strikes down on both sides, both positively and negatively. Israel’s precious ‘right to exist’ is preserved in the law, as is the novelty of Palestine’s right to exist. Two people, two states. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians are permitted to act terroristically during wartime. Both peoples should live in peace and security with full rights and dignities. This is the most simplest expression of where international law stands. Organizations like aid charity Oxfam UK follow the line of international law when it comes to positioning themselves on the conflict.

Another approach of neutrality would be to say that the Holy Land is sacred and should be preserved for the world’s Christians, Muslims and Jews (who constitute most of the people on this planet). Further, that all religions and people should be free to access a peaceful, not war-torn Holy Land, and that religious sites and religious freedoms should be absolutely protected in the Land. I think this is the neutral position that we see the Pope taking, with both his recent visit to the West Bank and Israel, and his holding of the peace prayer meeting with the Palestinian and Israeli premieres.

6. Why do you think that the argument regarding the right to self-determination is acknowledged and bought up when it comes to Israel, but always ignored when it comes to Palestine?

Israel continues to successfully maintain a dominant narrative in the West, and there are various reasons for that, including Israel’s developed PR and media outreach, as well as innate pro-Israel biases in the West’s dominant media because of prejudices like Islamophobia. While it is normal to hear about the importance of ‘Israel’s right to exist’, it seems rude, ridiculous or radical for us to ask, ‘what about Palestine’s right to exist?!’, even though it’s an elementary and fair question.

However, Israel’s grip on the narrative (and therefore on foreign governments’ policy) is slipping, throughout the world, including, importantly in Europe, and even also to an extent in the USA. Israel’s control over European and US positions is declining, on issues like settlements, the besiegement of Gaza, racist laws in Israel, economic cooperation between the PA and Israel, and the international recognition of Palestine.

7. What are your thoughts on the current unity government between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank? Were you surprised that the US is willing to work with this new unity government?

For years, I’ve been preaching that a necessary condition for progress for the Palestinians is to have internal reconciliation and, most importantly, to have elections. It’s a massive relief and immensely hope-inducing to see the interim reconciliation government in power and in place by the agreed deadline. It remains to be seen if the government will hold, whether elections will come in time, what its policies will be, and what practical improvements this will all yield on the ground (including for Gaza’s borders crossings, for instance).

Since the reconciliation government has been in place, we are already starting to see more hardball statements emanating from Palestinian leaders — threats to take Israel to international courts, threats to draw international consensus against Israel on key issues like settlements, and threats to escalate international bodies’ recognition for Palestine as a state. For those that want to see Israel’s power reduced, and therefore a balancing of the power dynamic with the Palestinians, this is good news.
I am hopeful that the interim government will indeed hold and that elections will be held successfully in the next 10 months.

What would be ideal would be for Palestinian factions to hold free elections soon, to install a new democratically-mandated government and leadership (without the tragic violent infighting that we saw in Gaza in 2007), to clearly galvanize popular international sympathy, and to clearly harness international legal avenues. I think this would put the Palestinians in a dramatically strengthened position, in comparison to where they’ve been at over the last few years.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Washington, Brussels, Moscow, Beijing, et al. tacitly accept the reconciliation and its product, an interim government. If the ‘international community’ (i.e. the US and whoever it can get to agree with it) is serious about its ‘two states for two peoples’ proposal for solving the conflict, then having a united and mandated Palestinian leadership to agree to the proposal is a simple prerequisite. Until now, the Palestinian leadership have recently been operating with a hairline mandate from elections back in 2006. So in a sense it was natural for the US to tacitly approve of the reconciliation, because they need the Palestinian leadership to have domestic legitimacy. The contradiction of course is that the internal Palestinian reconciliation has involved the coming together of one essentially US-accepted Palestinian movement (Fatah) and one US-deemed terrorist organization (Hamas).

8. How do you think, among all the extreme media bias, that people can get information and comes to their own conclusions regarding the ongoing struggles in the conflict?

The most important endeavour is to educate oneself about the conflict’s present dynamics and histories. The simple rules apply: get as much information as possible, from as many different sources as possible. I follow the conflict in the Palestinian, Israeli, UK, US and Russian news. Only when you look at the events and developments from disparate and even contradictory sources, do you see the real underlying dynamics of what’s happening.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Hell On Earth (Part 3)

 
Couresty: BBC



Hell On Earth: Understanding the Congo
Part 3: The Inferno Rages On




See Part 1 here


See Part 2 here


The Rule of Mobutu

Mobutu encountered two main problems once he became the ruler of the Congo: legitimacy and an underdeveloped military. To deal with his military, he “began modernizing the army with new equipment to provide prestige to the military and to accommodate the senior officers with whom he seized power in 1965, and the acquisition of modem equipment paralleled the enlargement of military spending.”[1] Mobutu also sent large amounts of officers to Western military schools. All of this was done with the goal of building an apolitical institution in the Congo.

To gain legitimacy, he absorbed 22 civilians from all over the country and across political parties into his government and appropriated Lumumba’s nationalism by declaring him a national hero and nationalizing the Mining Union of Upper Katanga, which, to the ordinary Congolese, looked like a revival of nationalist principles. Politically, he created a political party called the Popular Movement of the Revolution and amended the constitution to institutionalize it as the only legal political party.

The Mobutu regime was marked by massive corruption, with the ruling elite using the state for self-enrichment. During Mobutu’s 32 year reign (1965 to 1997), the country “accumulated an external debt of roughly US$ 14 bn. At the same time the living standards of the vast majority of Congo's people deteriorated from an already low base” and by the 1980s, 70 percent of the population was impoverished.[2] While all this was going on, “Mobutu and his associates amassed remarkable personal fortunes” with “Mobutu's own assets reportedly [peaking] in the mid-1980s at US$ 4 bn.”[3] Mobutu and his cronies were not the only ones to benefit. The US benefitted greatly as while they gave Zaire more than $1.5 billion in economic and military aid, US companies “increased their share of the ownership of Zaire’s fabulous mineral wealth” and on a geopolitical level, Mobutu “a stabilizing force and a staunch supporter of U.S. and Western policies.”[4] The regime was also aided by the French as they “contracted for a number of prestige infrastructure projects- major contributary factors to Zaire’s national debt which would top $8 billion by I 996 - in exchange for guaranteed French protection for Mobutu.”[5] However, Mobutu’s ill-gotten gains would not last long as he in 1997 he would be disposed.

Civil War and the End of Mobutu

The fall of Mobutu occurred due to a number of factors. Externally, due to a withdrawal of US support and a war between the joint forces of Uganda, Rwanda and the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) led to the collapse of the regime.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Cold War, and with it the threat of Communism, officially ended. The US began to change its foreign policy in order to encourage democratization around the world. With regards to Africa, the US “announced that future foreign assistance to Africa would be conditioned upon democratization”[6] and made good on this promise by cutting Mobutu off in 1992. The US further withdrew from Africa due to “Somalia Syndrome” regarding the Black Hawk Down incident. “Reeling from the debacle in Somalia, and with the Rwandan genocide already unfolding, Clinton issued Presidential Decision Directive 25, which sought to strictly limit future U.N. missions, and especially U.S. participation in them.”[7] Thus, with the lack of US support, Mobutu was left to fend for himself. Yet, he was soon to be affected by outside forces within the region.

Around this time the genocide in Rwanda was already well under way and the “genocidal forces made up of the remnants of the army of the ancien régime and the extremist Interahamwe militias” fled to the Congo. The Rwandan military pursued them, but needed Congolese allies to give its incursion into the Congo some legitimacy. This alliance was found in the form of “Laurent-Désiré Kabila, a retired revolutionary involved in cross-border business ventures, and among the Congolese Tutsi, who were fighting for recognition of their citizenship.”[8]

A number of nations in addition to Rwanda, including Uganda, wanted Mobutu out of power as the Congo “served as a rear base for attacks by armed movements against Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi; and the support offered by Mobutu to the Angolan rebel movement UNITA had not ceased with the 1994 Lusaka peace accord.”[9]

There was an ethnic component to the war as well. The Congolese Tutsi were viewed by Mobutu as being more loyal to Rwandan Tutsis than to the Congo. This led to pogroms and a small level of ethnic cleansing in the Kivu region, which is directly west of Rwanda. The Tutsi resisted with the aid of the Rwanda Patriotic Front. The Congolese Tutsi took part in the 'rebellion of the Banyamulenge' which started in September 1996 and was the start of the campaign that put Kaliba into power.

Yet, it was not just the Tutsis that aided Kaliba, but also the United States due to the strategic location and natural resource wealth of the Congo. Kaliba was visited by the Political Counselor to Kinshasha, the capital of the Congo, and US Ambassador Peter Whaley. The leader of the Rwandan rebels, Paul Kagame, “was trained at the US Army’s Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.”[10] Soon economic ties were established with the rebels as soon as the rebels took Kisangani, the capital of Orientale Province, North American mining companies rushed to get generous contracts; among them was the “Canadian-owned Tenke Mining Corp, which in May 1997 won a contract of $50 million to exploit the world’s largest copper and cobalt deposits” and “America’s Mineral Fields which signed a contract of $1 billion with the ADFL.”[11] Thus, a Kaliba victory was also a victory for the United States.

The fight against Mobutu’s forces was not difficult as they were unpaid and Mobutu had “kept [them] weak and divided so that it would not pose a threat.”[12] This resulted in the swift overthrow of his fleeing to Morocco, where he died in September 1997. In his place, Kabila came to power.

Second Congo War

Rather than establish the democracy that many had hoped for, Kaliba quickly established a one man rule and used public enterprises to “rapidly generate finances through indiscriminate concession granting;” overall his rule was marked by “corruption, patronage, and lack of accountability.” [13]

The Kaliba regime was quickly drawn into conflict, however, as rebel groups from Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi continued to use Congolese territory to launch attacks from into their respective countries. Rwanda did not take these attacks lying down as then-Vice President of Rwanda stated that “if the international community was unable or unwilling to stop the delivery of weapons to the ex-FAR and Interahamwe and the military training in the refugee camps, the Rwandan government could decide to take preventive military action.”[14] The final split between Kaliba and the Rwandan government came when Kaliba dismissed a Rwandan military chief of Tutsi descent as the chief of staff of the military and sent all of his Rwandan allies packing in July 1998 in order to avert the possibility of a military coup against him.

In the very next month, August, troops from Rwanda and Uganda entered the Congo and the Second Congo War began, with Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi on one side and the Congo, Angola, Chad, Nambia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe on the other.

The war lasted from 1998 to 2003, even though a ceasefire had been brokered in 1999 and UN troops deployed the year after. The war finally ended with the signing of the Pretoria Peace Accords in 2003 which called for an end to hostilities between Rwanda and the Congo and the rise of a transitional government, which was formed in July of that year.

During the Second Congo War, Kaliba was assassinated in January 2001. His son, Joseph Kaliba, took over and was even elected President in 2006. Unfortunately, the violence in the Congo would continue as the Kivu conflict arose.


Kivu Conflict

While the Second Congo War officially ended in 2003, there was still resistance in the aforementioned Kivu region. At the end of the Second Congo War, Laurent Nkunda, who had been an officer in the rebel group Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD), was made a colonel in the transitional government and promoted to general in 2004. Yet he soon turned against the government to support the RCD.

Starting on May 26, 2004, clashes took place “between soldiers loyal to Colonel Jules Mutebutsi, a commander from the Rally for Congolese Democracy” and “pro-government forces of the newly created Tenth Military Region under the command of General Mbuza Mabe.”[15] Nkunda was stationed in the north Kivu region and sent 1,000 soldiers to support Mutebutsi. There was an ethnic aspect to this as Mabe’s forces had been killing Congolese Tutsis and thus Nkunda, being a Congolese Tutsi himself, sent forces to protect his fellow Tutsis. From there a number of atrocities have occurred, from rape to the wholesale slaughter of civilians.

While the fighting continued until 2009 and ended with the capture of Nkunda in January[16], it is a wonder that they were able to sustain themselves for that long and thus the resources within the Kivu region and foreign companies played a role in sustaining the conflict must be bought up.

The main minerals that are exploited are “gold, cassiterite, wolframite, and columbite-tantalite (coltan).”[17] These minerals, especially coltan, are “needed to manufacture everything from lightbulbs to laptops, from MP3 players to Playstations”[18] and often change hands numerous times so that it is virtually impossible for the average consumer to find out if their devices are being powered by conflict minerals.

Even though many companies are attempting to clean up their act by avoiding the use of conflict minerals, there are still problems as “while major US-registered electronics firms are outwardly pledging to end the use of conflict minerals some of these same firms belong to industry associations that are seeking to water down the disclosure requirements under Dodd-Frank,”[19] which would force corporations to disclose the fact that they are utilizing conflict minerals. The situation has not fully been worked out yet and thus the violence- and suffering- continues.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Duty of Journalists




The Duty of Journalists: An Interview with James Corbett

Journalism today has, in many cases, become nothing but a joke. Many so-called journalists are essentially stenographers for the government and don't bother to truly look into a story, instead choosing to 'toe the government line' in order to maintain access to officials. It is this problem that has led me to interview independent journalist James Corbett regarding the duty and responsibility of journalists, how people can insert themselves into this ongoing conversation, and why independent journalism is important.


1. What do you define as a journalist? How does this conflict with what the mainstream media defines as a journalist?

The term "journalist" is not a job description and it does not define a fixed set of skills, duties and responsibilities the way "auto mechanic" or "accountant" does. Instead, it's a term used to describe a role that is determined by prevailing social relations in a given cultural context. The popular conception of a "journalist" in China is different from that in Qatar and different again from that in Montreal. Also, what we think of today as a "journalist" is different from what was thought of as a journalist 100 years ago or 200 years ago. Going back more than 500 years, it is difficult to say that anything we would define as "journalism" even existed. So in order to understand what we mean today by journalism we have to understand our own cultural context and expectations.

The primary factor underlying these relations today is the technological platform for the delivery of information. Just as the invention of the movable type printing press made something like a newspaper possible, so, too, is the internet making new forms of journalism possible. We are still living through this transformation and the new media of journalism (video reports filed by eyewitnesses via cellphone cameras, podcasts, liveblogging of events on social media, etc.) are still in their infancy, so it would be fair to say that we still don't know what a "journalist" in our current era looks like, only that it looks quite different from a "journalist" of 50 (or even 20) years ago.

This concept of course differs markedly from the mainstream definition of journalist, which means something akin to "one who reports for a mainstream media outlet." This concept is tied in with an institutional structure that includes a post-secondary education at an accredited institution that gives recognized qualifications and feeds into traditional print and broadcast media through well-recognized outlets. This was the primary concept of "journalism" in North America in the 20th century, and for whatever good it may have done on various stories it is widely acknowledged that by the end of the century media consolidation had left the industry in the hands of a handful of corporations, leading to the unanimous and unquestioning reporting of government-approved information we saw in the run-up to the Iraq War, in addition to other notable failures of reportage.

The current deconstruction of this concept of "journalism" by the internet and associated technologies is having the effect of broadening our idea of what constitutes "journalism" and who can be a "journalist," leading perhaps to the most radical conclusion: in our current media paradigm, anyone with access to the requisite technologies (even just a smartphone with internet access) can become a journalist.

2. What would you say are the responsibility of journalists? Would you say that any journalistic integrity still exists?


The obvious answer is that journalists should be faithful to the material they are reporting, meaning that what is reported should be factual and evidence-based. But it is not enough to say this. There is also the question of context, meaning that a fact presented in isolation might give a certain impression of a subject, but presented in a greater context might give a wholly different (perhaps even contradictory) impression.

The problem of contextualization is not a minor one, because it is almost infinitely scalable. The problem is not merely providing context, but what context to provide and how far that context should be explored. The problem also extends to the nature of "news" itself, what is reported on and what is not reported on. There is no objective viewpoint from which these answers are ultimately decidable, meaning the outdated concept of "journalistic objectivity" has to be seen as nothing more than a ploy to make one editor's (or a group of editors') editorial decisions seem like they are unbiased. But why report on this piece of legislation and not that one? Why interview this person about the subject and not that person? Why include this quote from this government official and not this quote from this government detractor?

Instead of the old concept of "objectivity" in reporting, we are moving toward an era of intense subjectivity. "News" is more and more being sourced from (or at least filtered by) unabashedly biased organizations and individuals. If you follow the US State Department's Twitter feed you know exactly what to expect from them, just as you do when you follow the RSS feed of an organization like the Centre for Research on Globalization. Although this trend is lamented by those caught up in the outdated paradigm of journalistic "objectivity," this era at least potentially empowers the individual to arrive at a more thorough understanding of world events by seeing the various arguments presented directly by their sources (and exploring the source documents online), allowing for the creation of a type of "intersubjectivity" that is more honest than the supposed "objectivity" of old.

In this new paradigm, journalistic integrity involves not only being faithful to the facts, but also up front with the audience about biases and issues of context and viewpoint. Journalists who pretend not to have a position on various issues are decreasingly trusted by the public, and those who come from a clearly defined point of view are viewed as being honest. This is a profound transformation in expectations.

3. Would you say that independent journalism is in danger with the rise of the federal Shield Law and the death of net neutrality?

Independent journalism, especially online journalism, represents a profound threat to a status quo that has been bolstered by a highly regulated and highly censored corporate news system. As a result, it is no surprise at all that there are several different vectors from which independent online journalism is under attack. The so-called "Shield Law" being debated in the U.S. is dangerous if for no other reason than that it would set the precedent for the federal government to define specifically what type of journalists would or would not be covered by various legal protections, thus potentially limiting the scope of First Amendment protections to those journalists thus described. This opens the door to accreditation or employment being considered a necessary prerequisite for a "journalist" and thus threatens to return us to a 20th century paradigm wherein the major newspapers, tv and radio stations (and, in our current era, their affiliated websites) would have no effective competition.

Similarly, the elimination of net neutrality threatens to create a system whereby those who cannot afford to pay for top-tier bandwidth (i.e. non-corporate, non-foundation funded entities) would be relegated to a slower, less accessible tier of the internet, thus necessarily reducing their potential audience. This would again create a de facto mirror of the former media paradigm whereby prohibitive publication costs (the cost of a printing press or tv or radio station in former times, the cost of upgraded internet service in modern times) would create an uneven playing field between corporate/foundation/government media and their independent competitors.

4. Due to there being so many different views on current and past events (eg People supporting Putin because he is against the West) as well as polarizing figures and pseudo-alternative media outlets, do you think it's still possible for the alternative media to make a major impact?

It is possible for alternative media to have an impact, of course. However, there is the possibility of genuinely important and unique information and perspectives being drowned out in the flood of noise being generated from all corners of the internet. It is a question of whether or not one has faith in the ability of the crowd to filter out the noise and promote the content worth promoting through the concept of "spontaneous order." For those who do not believe this to be possible, they will yearn for a system whereby the flood of noise is filtered out through some type of system (government-approved journalism, cost barriers for top-tier internet service, etc.). For those who do believe in the "wisdom of the crowd," the fact that so many people are participating in the grand conversation that is happening online is not something to be lamented, but celebrated. From this perspective, the more viewpoints that exist for us to consider and choose from, the better.

I am of the latter variety, in that I believe in the principle of spontaneous order, and do trust that the genuinely newsworthy and important information will rise to the top when everyone is allowed to participate freely and evenly in the process of news gathering and interpretation. This is not a popular point of view.

5. What are some of the reasons you think independent journalism is important? What do you think of credentials and the role they play in shaping the media?

Independence in journalism is vital in a society where there are so few people with such large megaphones for disseminating their point of view on any subject. Rupert Murdoch owns newspapers, film production companies, television news outlets and publishing imprints that literally span the globe in terms of reach and influence. Michael Bloomberg, Sumner Redstone, Jeff Bezos, Pierre Omidyar and other billionaire media owners are now involved in bringing people "all the news that's fit to print" via established media outlets from CBS News to the Washinton Post to supposedly "adversarial" online entities like First Look Media. It is a simple truism that these outlets will never report anything from a perspective that is fundamentally damaging to the business interests of their owners.

Now, thanks to the rise of internet technologies, we have for perhaps the first time in human history a relatively level playing field between these media monarchs and the average person blogging from their living room in Hoboken, New Jersey or Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The phenomenal nature of this revolution is only now beginning to be realized, and the power of the independent media is being glimpsed in raising levels of awareness on issues (like "false flag terrorism") that have previously been verboten in the status quo media. We, as a species, are on the cusp of a monumental moment in our history; either we will seize this opportunity to overthrow the previous paradigm wherein the rich and well-connected had a stranglehold over what information we receive on a daily basis, or we push this revolution to its end and eliminate the gatekeepers altogether. As with many such struggles, the choice is ultimately ours to make, but if we don't recognize the importance of this decision it will be made for us by the very rich and well-connected who stand to gain the most from the preservation of the old status quo.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Hell On Earth (Part 2)

Image Courtesy of History 365



Hell On Earth: Understanding the Congo
Part 2: Bloodshed

Part 1: Independence


After the Congo had been under a brutal colonization by Belgium, it finally seemed that their independence was at hand. However, there were a number of hiderances which created the Congo Crisis, a situation that had the characteristics of a secessionist war, a proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union, and a UN peacekeeping operation with the backdrop being the fight for Congolese independence.

Military Mutiny

It must first be noted that in the Congo, the military had only whites in command positions, even though there were “three African sergeant-majors in an army of 24,000 soldiers and non-commissioned officers, 542 officers, and 566 junior officers.” This was because due to a limited education, few Congolese officers had the proper experience to lead the military and thus the European officers needed to be retained. Even nationalist Patrice Lumumba “felt the need for continuity in the army-that is to say, for the retention of European officers” and stated as such to the Congo Executive College two months before the Congo became independent. Specifically, he stated that the military must stay “exactly as it is-with its officer class, its junior officers, its traditions, its discipline, its unique hierarchy and above all its morale unshaken."[1]

With the average soldiers realizing that they would remain in the same situation of obedience, rather than having opportunities for advancement, they rose up in a rage, seeking not only increased authority, but also an increase in pay. The mutiny began at the Thysville military base and quickly spread across the country. Once the mutiny had started, “stories of atrocities against whites surfaced in newspapers around the globe” and due to the fact that mainly Belgians were fleeing the Congo, the Belgian government brought in troops to restore order[2], even though Lumumba had denied a request from the Belgians to do so. This violated the friendship treaty between the two nations which stated that Belgian troops “may be used on Congolese national territory only upon the specific request of the Government of the Republic of the Congo, in particular, on the specific request of the Congolese Minister of Defense.”[3] It was around this time that the situation became even more unstable with the secession of the Katanga region.

Katanga Secession

As has been noted beforehand, the Katanga was quite an important part of real estate in the Congo due its large mineral wealth. Yet, there were much greater problems than just natural wealth at play.

Economically speaking, while the Katanga region did have a large amount of mineral wealth, the capital was held in the hands of one company: the Union Miniere du Haut Katanga (translated as Mining Union of Upper Katanga, UMHK). Having immense economic resources that are controlled by one company would have serious political implications both generally but especially for secession, namely, that Belgian aid was needed as the region was so dependent on Belgian technicians and investments.[4] Some sectors of the Katangan population viewed the province as “’ the cow that the other territories never tired of milking.’”[5]

The economic status of the province played into the ethnic tensions of the population. Industrialization of the Congo was mainly within the southern region of the province, where the three major mining centers were located, creating a rather large amount of uneven regional development. This was reflected in the uneven distribution “of social overhead capital-commercial centers, communication facilities, schools, hospitals, etc.”[6] This uneven development created ethnic tensions as the UMHK received much of its labor from neighboring Kaisai province. For example, the Luba of Kaisai, even though they were ethnically related to the Luba people of the Katanga, formed their own unique culture and this presence of ‘aliens’ helped to make both groups more conscious of their differences.

Besides the ethnic tensions between Congolese, another factor was the presence of Belgian settlers who had their own agenda. The interests of the settlers lined up with those of the economic elite as the settlers formed the Special Committee of Katanga, “whose principal function was to promote, in every possible way, the development of an agricultural colony. To serve this purpose, a [Frontier Syndicate of Katanga] had been set up in 1920, thanks to the financial backing of the UMHK, [the Congo Company for Trade and Industry] and several other large-scale capitalist enterprises.” In addition to this, besides the corporate interests, the settlers themselves had personal political and economic interests as they desired the special administrative status with a Vice Governor General, which acted as a representative of the Belgian monarchy.

Economically, they felt that “the proportion of public expenditures devoted to the Katanga appeared minute when compared with the over-all contribution of its taxpayers to colonial revenues.”[7] Thus, through a combination of ethnic tensions and economic interests, when the province finally decided to secede, it was “supported by a Belgian mining company and was backed by Belgian troops almost from the very beginning.”[8] Moïse Tshombé, a pro-Western anticommunist, was elected to lead the breakaway province and Katanga officially seceded on July 11, 1960. It was due to this secession and the Belgian intervention due to the military mutiny that Patrice Lumumba appealed to the UN to intervene.

Both Premier Patrice Lumumba and President Kasavubu went to the UN Security Council to plead their case for military intervention, with the goal of “[protecting] the national territory of the Congo against the present external aggression which is a threat to world peace.” They also alleged that “the Belgian Government of having carefully prepare the secession of the Katanga with a view of maintaining”[9] a hold on the Congo. The Council voted in favor of intervention, with there being only three abstentions of China, France, and the United Kingdom out of concern for Belgian interests.

From there, “contingents of a United Nations Force, provided by a number of countries including Asian and African States began to arrive in the Congo” and “United Nations civilian experts were rushed to the Congo to help ensure the continued operations of essential public services.”[10] The UN force would remain in the country for the next three years. However, it is rather interesting that both the USSR and the US would even agree on something like this, thus it is time to explore each of their respective interests in the Congo.

Foreign Interests

On a regional level, the US and Soviet Union both viewed Africa as important as “The question of independence for the colonies was championed by the USSR,” while the US and its allies can up with ways to “either delay the granting of independence and/or to involve the newly independent countries in their [the West's] global anti-communist crusade.” Demands for freedom by colonized populations were viewed as “a communist inspired movement, thus implicitly suggesting that the colonized peoples preferred to remain colonized.”[11]

The focus on independence allowed for the Soviets to gain a foothold in Africa as it could be seen as wanting equality and independence for oppressed peoples around the globe. The Soviets viewed the liberation movements sweeping Africa and Asia as “damaging to the West and therefore beneficial to World Communism—if it could be properly exploited.”[12] Thus, their goal in Africa was to aid the expansion of Communism. When Lumumba turned to the Soviet Union in August 1960 for aid to battle the Katanga secession after the UN refused to intervene[13], he was immediately seen as a Communist sympathizer or a useful fool for the Soviets in the eyes of the West, though it aided the Soviets in expanding their influence and building a reputation as supporting independence for oppressed peoples. While this would come back to haunt him, for the Soviets, it worked quite well to boost their credibility in the eyes of countries fighting colonialism.

The United States had a number of interests in the Congo. From the very start the West had been hostile to Lumumba as they saw him as over-nationalistic and an unreliable ally in the East-West conflict. When he accepted aid from the Soviet Union, this view only intensified. The US also had a number of economic interests in the region as well, with there being a number of high-level connections to corporations and the US State Department and other organizations.

For example, the Liberian-American Mineral Company was led by “Bo Gustav Hammarskjöld, brother of the U.N. Secretary General” and “Under-Secretary of State George Ball, who was directly in charge of making U.S. policy in the Congo,”[14] was a former member of Fowler Hamilton’s law firm, which represented the International African American Corporation, a UN mineral syndicate in the Congo. The aforementioned Mining Union of Upper Katanga had stock held in it by “American companies like Lazard Freres, the New York investment house” and “Allan A. Ryan, an American, [who] was director of the Belgium-American Banking Corporation” held 25% of the shares in Mining Union and “the Rockefeller Brothers [held] less than 1% of [Mining Union] shares.”[15] While Howard Kersher, a newspaper reporter, did not find a smoking gun linking these people to the problems in the Congo, it was quite obvious that they all had financial interest in the Congo and thus a stake in what was going on in regards to the Katanga secession.

From a geostrategic perspective, the Congo was important to the US as Congo could have a serious influence upon its neighbors, Cameroon, Gabon, the Central African Republic, and Sudan. US officials were worried that if a pro-Communist government came to power, it could set the tone that other African nations would follow and on a larger level, aid the Soviet Union in spreading Communist ideology. The Congo was valuable from a military perspective in that a key front in WW3 would be the Middle East and they assumed that Soviets would attempt to block routes to that theater and “Soviet generals and planners would understand the importance of the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal and even the waters surrounding the coasts of South Africa” to overall US strategy and that “any Soviet attack would make security of these routes integral to its plan.”[16]

Overall, the US “detested Lumumba and were determined to overthrow him, and this became the principal objective of US policy during the first six months of the Congo Crisis.”[17] CIA Director Allen Dulles warned of a “communist takeover of the Congo with disastrous consequences ... for the interests of the free world” and “authorized a crash-program fund of up to $100,000 to replace the existing government of Patrice Lumumba with a ‘pro-western group.’”[18] While the superpowers did have their respective interests in the Congo, the situation would intensify with the secession of South Kasai.

South Kasai


The South Kasai region, like the Katanga region, was rich with mineral wealth, mainly diamonds. Until the mid-1970s, it produced one-third of global output of industrial diamonds. Though mineral wealth was important due to the economics of the Congo, it was mainly ideological differences and ethnic conflict that caused the secession.

Ideologically, the secession was led by Albert Kalonji, who had been prominent figure in the Congolese National Movement party, but later split off from Lumumba to help form a more moderate wing of the nationalist party, which came to be known as MNC-Kalonji. Like the Abako political party, the Kalonji wing of the MNC preferred a centralized system in favor of autonomous provinces based on ethnic lines.

With regards to ethnicity, the secession “can be traced to the territorial expansion of the Baluba beyond southern Kasai to the Lulua area in the late-nineteenth century, which created animosities between the Baluba and the Lulua.”[19] This territorial expansion of Baluba peoples due to lack of cultivable land saw the Baluba move permanently into the region and attain most of the clerical colonial jobs. “The fear of domination by the Baluba prompted the creation of the Association of Lulua-Frères in 1951 by a Lulua chief, Sylvain Mangole Kalamba.”[20] Tensions eventually reached a crisis when “the local administration proposed to resettle Baluba farmers from Lulua land (an economically booming center province) back to their impoverished homeland in southern Kasai.”[21] Kalonji exploited these ethnic tensions for political gain and declared secession of South Kasai.

The Rise of Mobutu

While the country was wracked with political turmoil, it provided the perfect atmosphere for a coup. On September 6, 1960, President Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba and appointed Joseph Ileo as the new Premier. However, his reign was not to last as the Army Chief of Staff, Joseph Mobutu, would soon take power in a coup with foreign help
.
Mobutu already had ties with the CIA that dated back to “his role in the pre-independence negotiations in Brussels where he both reported to the Belgian Sûreté and made his first contacts with Lawrence Devlin,”[22] the CIA station chief in the Congo. These ties only grew during the Congo Crisis when the US and other Western powers funded Mobutu, who, in turn “distributed large amounts of money to the officers and men under his command; through this arrangement he was able to establish bonds of loyalty among his soldiers.” It also didn’t hurt that his unit “was virtually the only really functioning element of the Congolese National Army.”[23] The US aided Mobutu’s rise to power as, has previously been mentioned, they viewed Lumumba as a Communist sympathizer and they needed to get rid of him in order to ensure that the Soviets would not gain a sphere of influence in Africa.

The first time Mobutu took power was regarding a constitutional dispute. Kasavubu had dismissed Lumumba. Though, both the US and the UN had influence on this action. Andrew W. Cordier, a UN official, and Dag Hammarskjöld, the UN Secretary-General, “coordinated their activities with the State Department” overall and Cordier for September 6, “arranged for UN troops to close the airport -- to preclude any airlift of loyal troops to the capital by Lumumba” and then “ordered UN forces to close the radio station as well, which prevented Lumumba from broadcasting an appeal for support.”[24] This encouraged Kasavubu to act against Lumumba, however his plan would backfire as Lumumba would receive full vote of confidence from the Congolese Parliament whereas Kasavubu’s appointment, Joseph Ileo, would not.

Due to this situation, the US became even more focused on getting Mobutu into power and advocated for a military coup. On September 14, Mobutu removed Lumumba from office, dissolved Parliament, but quickly “turned the government over to a College of Commissioners composed of the few college graduates the country possessed.”[25] He placed Lumumba under house arrest, but Lumumba was soon freed by loyal Congolese troops. Mobutu then again captured Lumumba and placed him under house arrest with a UN guard.

Upon hearing that Lumumba had been place under house arrest, Vice Prime Minister Antoine Gizenga set up a rival government in the eastern city of Stanleyville with the help of pro-Lumumba forces. On December 12, 1960, Gizenga declared the nation of Stanleyville, with its capital of Oriental City, to be the only legitimate government of the Congo.

Gizenga quickly turned to the Soviet Union for aid. In a telegram, he asked the Soviets to “immediately, without delay, to help us in military equipment and foodstuffs’ in order to repel the invasion of Mobutu’s troops ‘who unleashed the civil war against soldiers and units loyal to the legitimate government.”[26] Factoring in that they had attempted to aid the Lumumba government and failed, the Soviets took their time in replying to Gizenga. When they did respond, they sent $500,000 in aid as due to the blockade on Stanleyville, they could not transport aid directly to the fledging government and due to infighting among the USSR and its regional allies, and little else was done.

The situation was then where there were four competing governments in the Congo: Joseph Mobutu and Joseph Kasavubu in Léopoldville, supported by Western governments, Antoine Gizenga in Stanleyville, Albert Kalonji in South Kasai, and Moise Tshombe in Katanga.

The Assassination of Patrice Lumumba

As has been previously mentioned, the West had never been particularly fond of Lumumba, especially after he sought aid from the Soviet Union. His assassination came as a surprise to many, but it had already been planned from the very beginning as the US was determined to get him out of the picture, as were the Belgians.

With regards to the assassination, on November 27, 1960, Lumumba left UN custody to make a break for Stanleyville and join his supporters there. However, he was captured by Mobutu’s forces only days later and imprisoned him. In early January 1961, forces loyal to Lumumba invaded “northern Katanga to support a revolt of Baluba tribesmen against the Tshobme government.” Due to ‘security’ reasons, “the CIA and Mobutu decided to transfer Lumumba from Leopoldville to Katanga,”[27] where he and two aides were subsequently killed.

The United States had plans to eliminate Lumumba that went as high as the President himself. In August 25, 1960, a subcommittee of the National Security Council, known as the Special Group, met; Thomas Parrott, the secretary of the Group, began the meeting by outlining the CIA operations that had been undertaken in ‘mounting an anti- Lumumba campaign in the Congo,’ with the meeting ending with the group “not necessarily rule out of any particular kind of activity which might contribute to getting rid of Lumumba.”[28] The very next month, CIA Station Officer Victor Hedgman received a cable from Bronson Tweedy, the Deputy Director of the CIA, in which “he advised [Hedgman], or [his] instructions were, to eliminate Lumumba” and that the orders came from the President himself.[29]

While a Senate report did that there was “no evidentiary basis for concluding that the CIA conspired in this plan or was connected to the events in Katanga that resulted in Lumumba's death,” some doubt still remains as the CIA did have a plan to poison Lumumba and possessed “advance knowledge of the central government's plan to transport Lumumba into the hands of his bitterest enemies, where he was likely to be killed.”[30] The US government, at the very least, played a role in the killing of Lumumba.

The Belgians also had wanted to kill Lumumba and were somewhat involved with his assassination. Specifically, they were involved in “weapon deliveries; supporting the arrest of Lumumba; action 58316, (the outline of which is unclear but within which an attack on Lumumba could be relevant); and the kidnapping of Lumumba.”[31] They also had information that the leader’s life was in danger due to being in the Katanga, but the Belgian government did not take any action to protect him; in fact, when Lumumba was executed, it was in the presence of “a Belgian police commissioner and three Belgian officers who were under the authority, leadership and supervision of the Katangan authorities.”[32]

With Lumumba dead, it was only a matter of time before the Congo would be reunited under the rule of Mobutu.

The Fall of the Revolution

During late 1960 and early 1961, it became obvious to the Western powers that “the provisional government of Kasavubu would not last without reconciliation with Katanga, and the U.S. pressed for a federated Congo government which would include Katanga.”[33] The US pushed for the UN Security Council to pass a resolution demanding an end to the Katanga secession. This was passed in the form of UNSC Resolution 161, which stated in part that the UN should “take immediately all appropriate measures to prevent the occurrence of civil war in the Congo.”[34]

However, this was undermined by Belgium and other involved American interests, which didn’t want the secession to end. Thus, they formed an organization called ‘The Committee to Aid Katanga Freedom Fighters,” which allowed Tshombe to “build an army which could resist the UN, financed by Belgium,” yet this armed force also had reactionary forces within it from a number of places. They came from “the United States (Cuban exiles), Britain, France (ex-Foreign Legionnaires), West Germany (ex-SS men), South Africa (fascists), Rhodesia--and, of course, Belgium.”[35]

In February 1961, Kasavubu put an end to the Mobutu reign and appointed Joseph Ileo and Cyrille Adoula heads of the new government, with him remaining as president.. The very next month, Gizenga attempted to make peace with the Congo, but he was arrested by Kasavubu and imprisoned, while Tshombe was forced into exile. Three years later, in 1964, the UN left the Congo Tshombe came back to rule the Congo. During his leave of absence, Tshombe “conferred in Brussels with Foreign Minister Paul-Henri Spaak and the U.S. Ambassador,”[36] which allowed him to return to the Congo and replace Adoula as Prime Minister. Yet, this government would not last. Mobutu would take power in November 1965, once again with the aid of the CIA.

The US became worried in 1964 regarding the competition between Tshombe and Kasavubu, both of whom hoped to rule the Congo after the civil war ended. This concern heightened when Kasavubu “sought ‘an opening to the left’ by dismissing Tshombe and appointing a government ready to consider not only the dismissal of mercenaries, but also the recognition of Communist China and improved relations with left-nationalist African states”[37] and the CIA backed Mobutu as to ensure that no leftist groups gained power.

However, there was also internal politicking as well. The coup itself was a collective decision by senior officers of the Congolese military. They backed Mobutu as “they believed that the army was above partisan politics and their immediate demand after the coup was an increase in the fighting power of the army.”[38] In order to satisfy the military, Mobutu would increase the size of the military and enhance is prestige. Yet, while it seems that Mobutu had finally become the ruler of the Congo, there were internal struggles that he would have to deal with.


Endnotes


1: Claude E. Welch, “Soldier and State in Africa,” The Journal of Modern African Studies 5:3 (1967), pgs 307-308

2: US Department of State, Office of the Historian, the Congo, Decolonization, and the Cold War, 1960–1965, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1961-1968/congo-decolonization

3: Africa Today Associates, “Conflict in the Congo,” Africa Today 7:5 (1960), pg 8

4: Rene Lemarchand, “The Limits of Self-Determination: The Case of the Katanga,” American Political Science Review 56:2 (1962), pg 405

5: Lemarchand, pg 406

6: Ibid

7: Lemarchand, pg 409

8: M. Rafiqul Islam, “Secessionist Self-Determination: Some Lessons from Katanga, Biafra, and Bangladesh,” Journal of Peace Research 22:3 (1985), pg 213

9: Joseph Kasavubu, Patrice Lumumba, UN Security Council Resolution S/4382, United Nations Security Council, http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/4382 (July 13, 1960)

10: United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Republic of the Congo- ONUC Background, http://www.un.org/Depts/DPKO/Missions/onucB.htm

11: Natuf, pg 355

12: William G. Thom, “Trends in Soviet Support for African Liberation." Air University Review 25 (1974), pg 36

13: BBC, The Congolese Civil War, 1960-1964, http://news.bbc.co.uk/dna/place-lancashire/plain/A1304803

14: Kiama Mutahi, “The United States, The Congo, and the Mineral Crisis of 1960-64: The Triple Entente of Economic Interest,” Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Miami University, 2013. https://etd.ohiolink.edu/, pg 33

15: Mutahi, pg 32

16: Davis, Erik M., "The United States and the Congo, 1960-1965: Containment,
Minerals, and Strategic Location" (2013). Theses and Dissertations--History. Paper 8. http://uknowledge.uky.edu/history_etds/8, pg 578

17: David N. Gibbs, “Secrecy and International Relations,” Journal of Peace Research 32:2 (1995), pg 220

18: William Blum, Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since WW2 (London, United Kingdom: Zed Books, 2003), pg 156

19: Emizet Kisangani and Léonce Ndikumana, "The Economics of Civil War: The Case of the Democratic Republic of Congo," Political Economy Research Institute Working Papers 47 (2003), pg 8

20: Ibid, pg 9

21: Ibid

22: Götz Bechtolsheimer "Breakfast with Mobutu: Congo, the United States and the Cold War, 1964-1981," PhD Diss., The London School of Economics and Political Science (2012), pg 64

23: Gibbs, pg 220

24: Gibbs, pg 221

25: Michael G. Schatzberg , “Beyond Mobutu: Kabila and the Congo ,” Journal of Democracy 8:4 (1997), pg 72

26: Sergei Mazov, “Soviet Aid to the Gizenga Government in the Former Belgian Congo (1960–61) as Reflected in Russian Archives,” Cold War History 7:3 (2007), pg 429

27: Tom Cooper, “Congo, Part 1: 1960-1963,” Air Combat Information Group, September 2, 2003 (http://www.acig.org/artman/publish/article_182.shtml)

28: U.S. Congress, Senate, Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities, Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders, 1975, 94th Congress, 1st Session, November 20, 1975 (Washington D.C.: GOP 1975), pg 60

29:: Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders, pgs 24, 26

30: Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders, pg 48

31: Belgian House of Representatives, Parliamentary Inquiry on the Circumstances of the Assassination of Patrice
Lumumba and on the Possible Involvement of Belgian Politicians, Report of the Commission of Inquiry http://www.dekamer.be/commissions/LMB/indexN.html, pg 6

32: http://www.dekamer.be/commissions/LMB/indexN.html, pg 8

33: Dick Roberts, “Patrice Lumumba and the Revolution in the Congo,” The Militant, http://www.themilitant.com/2001/6528/652850.html (July 23, 2001)

34: United Nations Security Council, UN Security Council Resolution S/4741, http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/171/68/IMG/NR017168.pdf?OpenElement (February 21, 1961)

35: Roberts, July 23, 2001

36: Ibid

37: Stephen R. Weissman, “CIA Covert Action in Zaire and Angola: Patterns and Consequences,” Political Science Quarterly 94:2 (1979), pg 273

38: Kisangani N. F. Emizet, “Explaining The Rise And Fall of Military Regimes: Civil-Military Relations in the Congo,” Armed Forces & Society 26:2 (2000), pg 211