Monday, June 30, 2008

U.S. Cries for African Oil

Americans spend so much time fixated on oil in the Middle East that they generally pay little or no attention to sub-Saharan Africa, which supplies almost as much black gold to the U.S. as the Persian Gulf States. It’s also a region with just as much (if not more) danger of unexpected supply disruption. That’s largely what drove the establishment of AFRICOM, the new U.S. military administrative headquarters (one of six regional HQs worldwide) devoted solely to military relations with 53 African countries.

To put the region in perspective, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for nearly 16% of U.S. daily oil imports in 2007, versus just under 18% for the Persian Gulf States and just over 18% for Canada according to the U.S. Department of Energy. On an individual country basis, here are our top five foreign suppliers and our daily purchases in thousands of barrels:

Canada 2243
Saudi Arabia 1487
Venezuela 1336
Mexico 1258
Nigeria 1131

Angola, with 507,000 barrels daily, ranks seventh, just behind Algeria. Chad, Gabon, Congo (Brazzaville), and Equatorial Guinea are petroleum suppliers to the U.S. as well, along with minor players including South Africa, Mauritania, Ivory Coast, Ghana, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Kinshasa).

Nigeria is particularly vulnerable to disruption. Rebel groups opposed to President Umaru Yar'Adua have repeatedly destroyed oil pumping stations, pipelines, and other distribution facilities. The bold Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has sent militants in boats through heavy seas to attack the Bonga oil field more than 65 miles from land, temporarily shutting production of more than 200,000 barrels per day.

It is not just rebel groups that threaten the Nigerian supply, either. White-collar oil workers threatened to strike after talks between U.S. energy giant Chevron Corp. and the country's white-collar oil industry workers broke down recently. A walkout was averted, but the issues remain.

The other major situation the U.S. faces with its African oil supply is competition, especially from China. The Angolans supplied almost as much oil (465,000 barrels daily) to China as they did to the U.S. in 2007. That number will almost certainly go up. The Council on Foreign Relations points out

Beijing secured a major stake in future oil production in 2004 with a $2 billion package of loans and aid that includes funds for Chinese companies to build railroads, schools, roads, hospitals, bridges, and offices; lay a fiber-optic network; and train Angolan telecommunications workers.

Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos received his degree from the Azerbaijan Oil and Chemistry Institute in the old USSR and served as his party’s (MPLA) representative to China shortly before becoming President. The U.S. has been able to deal with him, but he’s no particular friend. After his 29 years in office during which Angola has sunk to one of the world’s poorest and least-developed countries despite almost limitless oil, diamonds, and other resources, there’s no guarantee that the situation in the country will remain stable enough to assure the U.S. of continued supply.

With two of the top seven U.S. oil suppliers vulnerable to supply disruptions at any moment, is it any wonder that the American military presence in Africa is slated for the major expansion?

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Goodbye, Zimbabwe

Bang the drum slowly, it's all over but the hand-wringing in Zimbabwe. Morgan Tsvangirai's withdrawl from the Presidential run-off election means that Robert Mugabe has officially won, ensuring that his party, the Zimbabwe African National Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) will remain in power for the foreseeable future. It's a big blow for democracy in Africa, not to mention another big nail in the coffin of what was once a beautiful, prosperous nation.

In a face-saving gesture, Tsvangirai will call (again) for a unity government. His plea will be echoed by the US, Britain, and perhaps one or two regional nations. The man and his party have no leverage, however, so Mugabe will certainly refuse to even consider the "demand" that he give up any power.

Mugabe had already announced he wouldn't recognize the results of the election if he lost, why should he give in now?

There is no organized opposition to the Old Man in Zimbabwe, as the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)'s failure to nominate a viable candidate proved. What about Tsvangirai? With all due respect to his bravery in both mounting a campaign and then having the decency to call it off before more bloodshed occurs, he was never a strong opponent. His past failures to pull his party together, previous half-hearted attempts to force a unity government on Mugabe, and apparent inability to rally the leaders of regional states around his cause have to be seen as contributing factors to his defeat.

While there is no question that ZANU-PF's brutality destroyed the democratic process, Tsvangirai's weak candidacy was doomed to failure from the start. Until MDC finds a leader--or another opposition party emerges (a highly unlikely prospect)--Mugabe and whoever succeeds him as the head of ZANU-PF (even the Old Man won't live forever, but his power base might) will continue to rule Zimbabwe.

Is there anyone else who can bring about change? Not really. Simba Makoni, a senior member of ZANU-PF until he was expelled and a one-time Minister of Finance, staged a campaign in the first election, but I suspect he was allowed to run simply to split the opposition vote, which he did. Arthur Mutambara, a leader of an MDC faction opposed to Tsvangirai, threw his support to Makoni not long after he announced his candidacy. The result was that Makoni essentially became Zimbabwe's Ralph Nader, garnering just enough votes (8.3%) to ensure no clear victory for MDC.

There won't be any outside intervention, either, regardless of how loudly the New York Times and the rest of the Western press bang that drum. Any action by the UN Security Council will be blocked by South Africa. The US and Britain are in no position to start any other foreign wars--and who appointed them Africa's savior anyway? Any action whatsoever by the West will simply play into Mugabe's claim that his opponents are no more than pawns of the colonialists, further inflaming his club-wielding supporters.

Nor will the regional states step in, even though they have the most to lose as Zimbabwe continues to sink into oblivion and its people flood over their borders looking for new lives. South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki has done little more than jawbone around the situation, obviously reluctant to undercut his ally, Mugabe. Levy Patrick Mwanawasa of Zambia and Botswana President Seretse Ian Khama have spoken harshly, but that's about all they can do without the heft of South Africa behind them.

What does the future hold for Zimbabwe? Much, much more of the same. Harsher Western economic sanctions will take the remaining scraps of food off the tables of the poor but mean little or nothing to the "Big Men" at the top of the heap. Food aid will resume, but be distributed (one way or the other) by Mugabe's men only to those who support the party. Eventually, Chinese arms shipments will resume.

The West will cry and protest, but the people of Zimbabwe will die in silence.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

When Police Are Criminals

Which is worse, the cure or the disease? The police or the criminals? One of the themes of Heart of Diamonds is how the good guys aren't always what they seem, nor are the righteous rebels always on the side of the angels.

While most eyes are on the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, unrest continues in the west. Bundu Dia Kongo (BDK) has been agitating and fighting for independence since 1969 in the Bas Congo province. The group's motto, "To fight for the defence, the protection and the promotion of the rights and interest of the Kongo people throughout the world," reflects their intentions.

Since October, 2007, tensions have flared between BDK and the local authorities in several Bas Congo cities and villages, with a very real threat of loss of governmental control over several locations. At the end of February, 2008, the DRC government launched police operations to restore state authority in the province. The Rapid Intervention Force and the Integrated Police Unit were sent from Kinshasa to respond to BDK actions, which included murder, attacks and the taking over of state authority in certain areas the province.

A UN investigation concluded that at least 100 people, mainly BDK members, were killed during the operations launched by the Congolese National Police (PNC). The PNC went beyond their mandate to restore order, however, destroying more than 200 buildings (churches, houses of BDK members as well as houses of civilians with no links to the BDK) in several Bas Congo villages. There was looting reported as well.

More than 150 BDK members were arrested during the violence, and several of them were victims of torture or cruel and degrading treatment, according to the UN report.

Does BDK have a righteous cause? It's rather hard to justify given that it's based on a kingdom that hasn't effectively existed for probably two hundred years. On the other hand, was the PNC justified in destroying not just the rebels but the homes and churches of civilians as well? It seems to me that everyone involved is morally wrong in this situation--not unusual in the Congo.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Abuse On Angola-Congo Border

A new wave of deportees has arrived in Kasai Occidental province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (the setting for Heart of Diamonds) from the diamond mining region in Angola. Most of the women among the 27,000 people expelled by the Angolans have been sexually abused, according to local health officials.

"There are many injured people and 80 percent of the women had been raped," according to Pierre Didi Mpata, a doctor and director of an NGO running a local health center in Kamako, a village near the Congolese border with Angola not far from Mai-Munene where much of the story in Heart of Diamonds takes place. Some 5,000 refuges now crowd Kamako. The UN mission in DRC, MONUC, reports 22,230 more DRC citizens were sent back from Angola in the last two weeks. They are now between Kahungua and Tembo, some 95 kilometers from the Angolan border.

Mpata was quoted in a UN Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) report that among the people who had been sexually abused was Caroline Lomelo (not her real name), a mother of two.

"I was badly beaten up and raped by five Angolan police officers when they forcefully expelled us," she said. Lomelo returned to the DRC five days ago from Angola. According to Mpata, Lomelo can barely stand because she has a sexually transmitted infection. She is also six months pregnant.

"She is in danger of having an abortion because of the [gonorrhoea] infection she contracted," Mpata said.

Lomelo, who was training to be a nurse, said she had gone to Angola from her home town of Lodja, in the central province of Kasai Oriental, to look for her brother.

The Angolan authorities began to expel illegal immigrants from the country in December 2003, targeting illegal workers in its diamond mines near the border with the DRC. Previous mass expulsions in the area had been halted by an agreement between the two countries. In December 2007, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) denounced "the pervasive and systematic use of rape and violence perpetrated by the Angolan army during the expulsions of Congolese migrants working in diamond mines in the Angolan province of Lunda Norte".

The current wave of expelled immigrants have nothing and are exhausted after walking at least 100 kilometers from Angola where they were living in churches and schools where supplies of basic items were inadequate. "It's a miracle they survived," Mpata said.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

UN Reports Relative Calm in Eastern Congo

MONUC reports the military situation remains relatively calm in the Democratic Republic of Congo although isolated clashes continue in the eastern provinces. It also said that hundreds of rebels in eastern DRC have surrendered to MONUC forces in the past week.

Clashes between the DRC Armed Forces (FARDC) and Mai-Mai militia were reported in Orientale Province close to the Ofiyo river, six kilometers from Balobe in Bafwasende territory. According to an initial assessment, four FARDC soldiers and up to 30 Mai-Mai were killed.

In Ituri, dissidents belonging to the Nationalists and Integrationists Front (FNI) and the Ituri Patriotic Resistance Front (FRPI) surrendered with their weapons to MONUC forces.

In North and South Kivu, sporadic violations of the cease-fire were reported. Elements of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), Mai-Mai groups, and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) regularly skirmish between themselves or against the FARDC. Incidents were reported between the CNDP and the PARECO in Kahira.

FARDC clashed with the PARECO in Mutebo. MONUC is investigating a report of several people killed during clashes between the CNDP and the PARECO. The clashes are believed to have taken place in the area of Kusuma, located between Katale and Mushake.

In South Kivu, several violations of the cease-fire were reported even though the signatories of the Goma Act of Engagement committed to a complete and immediate end to hostilities as well as to all acts of violence, movement, reinforcement and recruitment.

MONUC forces were also informed of forced recruitment of children by the Mai-Mai. Five minors aged between 14 and 15 years were abducted recently near Luzira and Ishovu. Clashes between various Mai-Mai groups of the Cobra Brigade took place in Muremana, north of Minova.

Even though these incidents are deplorable, they represent a lower level of violence than the region has seen in recent months.

The UN also reported even more positive news: More than 500 people presented themselves to the MONUC Mobile Operational Base (MOB) at Bambo, 120 kilometres north of Goma. This group was composed of some 260 "Mongol" Mai-Mai combatants, accompanied by 117 women and 154 children. They brought with them 24 rifles, 54 chargers, 13 grenades and a machine-gun. A day later, 46 combatants of the same Mai-Mai group surrendered at the same MONUC MOB.

In May 2008, 137 people comprising 82 armed foreign combatants, along with 55 dependents were repatriated within the framework of Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reinsertion and Reintegration (DDRRR) program to Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, their countries of origin. That brings to 524 the total repatriated by MONUC's DDRRR division in 2008.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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