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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 6, No. 15, 15 August 2007

In this Issue:


Red Alert

The Eagle is not just encircling but landing on our continent: Africans must reject AFRICOM

Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

One of the most interesting silences in our political and public debates in South Africa is that on the global imperialist plans of the United States in general, and its imperialist plans for the African continent in particular.

In February 2007 President George W Bush announced his decision to create a Unified Command for Africa, known as AFRICOM. On 6 February 2007, US Defence Secretary, Robert M. Gates, announced this decision thus:

"The president has decided to stand up a new unified, combatant command, Africa Command, to oversee security co-operation, building partnership capability, defense support to non-military missions, and, if directed, military operations on the African continent".

In elaborating on the tasks of AFRICOM in her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Subcommittee on African Affairs on 1 August 2007, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, Theresa Whelan, had this to say, amongst other things:

"For many years our military relationships on the continent have been implemented by three separate commands: US European Command, US Central Command and US Pacific Command. While these commands executed their missions well, AFRICOM presents an opportunity to eliminate the bureaucratic divisions and operational seams created by this organizational structure. We hope that AFRICOM will allow (the US) Department of Defense (DoD) civilian and military leaders to take a more holistic and operationally efficient approach to the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead as Africa's multilateral institutions such as the African Union and the Regional Economic Communities, figure more prominently in African security affairs. Consolidation under one command has the potential to better support the development of these important regional mechanisms and relationships…

"AFRICOM also is a manifestation of how DoD is innovating to transform its ability, institutionally, to meet the challenges of the new global security"

AFRICOM as part of the US global National Security Strategy

The proposed establishment of AFRICOM is a matter that should be of serious concern to all peace-loving democrats on our continent and other progressive forces globally. Primarily the establishment of AFRICOM is giving concrete expression to the objectives of the ‘National Security Strategy of the United States of America' (NSS) released by the US state department in March 2006. This document has not received the attention it requires, as well as discussion and debate both within our party as well as by progressive forces globally. It essentially captures the current hegemonic intentions of the United States and the challenges it poses for communist, socialist and other left progressive forces.

In his Foreword to the NSS, George W Bush says

"America is at war. This is a wartime national security strategy required by the grave challenge we face – the rise of terrorism fuelled by an aggressive ideology of hatred and murder, fully revealed to the American people on September 11, 2001"

"We choose leadership over isolationism and the pursuit of free and fair trade and open markets over protectionism… We fight our enemies abroad instead of waiting for them to arrive in our country. We seek to shape the world, not merely shaped by it… We must maintain a military without peer… History has shown that only when we do our part will others do theirs. America must continue to lead"

The NSS document further elaborates on some of these themes, including the following:

"The goal of our statecraft is to help create a world of democratic, well-governed states that can meet the needs of their citizens and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system. This is the best way to provide enduring security for the American people"

Of particular significance for developing countries, especially the African continent is the ‘developmental strategy' implied in the document, and the US attitude towards challenges facing developing countries:

"Yet political progress can be jeopardized if economic progress does not keep pace. We will harness the tools of economic assistance, development aid, trade and good governance to help ensure that new democracies are not burdened with economic stagnation or endemic corruption"

From the above, the NSS outlines its attitude towards poverty:

"An end to tyranny will not mark an end to all global ills. Disputes, disease, disorder, poverty, and injustice will outlast tyranny, confronting democracies long after the last tyrant has fallen

Some important observations that can be made out of this is that the NSS is effectively defining a new enemy for US imperialism; ‘threat of terrorism' replaces ‘threat of communism' as the new defining imperialist strategy. The NSS reduces the global threat to an ‘ideology of hatred' (read ‘Islamic inspired terrorism'), in a manner that is completely disconnected to the actions of the US's own actions in supporting repressive regimes worldwide, the question of growing global inequalities, both within and between countries, and unresolved political conflicts in the world. For the US NSS the primary answer to this is increased militarism

The NSS is brazenly unilateralist, militaristic and basically positions the US as the custodian of human civilisation. For instance in the NSS the United Nations is largely referred to in so far as it can be used to legitimise and back some of the elements of this strategy, and where the UN does not act in the interests of the US, the latter will go it alone. And that is exactly what happened with Iraq.

Most significantly the NSS now unashamedly subjects all development objectives under a military and security strategy of the US. Questions of poverty and economic inequalities are being effectively subjected to US military policy, through the merging of, for instance, developmental assistance with US military strategic objectives and operations. This is clearly articulated by Whelan in the same submission to the Foreign Relations Committee, in what she refers to as the ‘innovativeness' of AFRICOM:

"Second, AFRICOM will include a significant number of representatives from other US agencies within its staff, including officers from the Department of State and the US Agency for International (USAID)… These interagency officers will contribute their knowledge and expertise to the command so that AFRICOM will be more effective as it works to build peacekeeping, humanitarian relief, and distaster response capacity in Africa. They will also help AFRICOM identify ways that DoD can support other US Government departments and agencies' initiatives in Africa"

The imperialist intentions of AFRICOM on the African continent

It is also clear that AFRICOM is being positioned as the overall co-ordinating mechanism through which to "take a more holistic and operationally efficient approach to the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead" in the wake of "Africa's multilateral institutions such as the African Union and the Regional Economic Communities", says Whelan! In other words it is the US government's key instrument through which to, amongst other things, ‘colonise' the emerging African multi-lateral institutions.

To this end Whelan underlines the urgency of establishing AFRICOM: "We are moving quickly to stand up AFRICOM through a Transition Team, which includes officers of Department of State and USAID, which is located in Stuttgart, Germany". As part of ‘moving quickly' President Bush has already nominated a highly decorated African-American general, William E. (Kip) Ward, currently the Deputy Commander of the US European Command, as the new commander of AFRICOM. General Ward's military service has included what the US military refers to as ‘overseas tours' in places like Korea, Egypt, Somalia, Bosnia, Israel, Germany including a number of other assignments in the US including Alaska and Hawaii.

It is clear that AFRICOM reflects not just the growing militarization of US imperialism, but its hegemonic intentions to have the US armed forces stationed in practically all parts of the world. To underline the militarization of development ‘assistance', General Ward will have both a military and civilian deputy.

AFRICOM's intentions are also clearly to subject Africa's socio-economic and developmental needs to a military paradigm and strategy. In other words poverty and underdevelopment in Africa is a threat only in so far as these can be breeding grounds for ‘terrorism' and instability that threatens the imperialist interests of the US. Much as the history of many US development assistance agencies like USAID has been that of advancing the economic and political interests of the US, including destabilisation of regimes opposed to the US interests, what AFRICOM does is to even remove whatever pretences or Cold War cover these agencies might have had as ‘development assistance' agencies.

AFRICOM is also a means through which to draw the African continent into dealing with the new enemy, terrorism, as seen by the United States, and not by the African people themselves. It is a more aggressive military strategy now without some of the constraints of the Cold War.

Responses to AFRICOM

The responses of the African Union and other African governments have been rather muted given the very serious implications of AFRICOM for our continent. Many governments have been completely silent about these developments or merely raised them in whispers.

The most immediate task for progressive, peace-loving and democratic forces in our continent is to engage on an extensive analyses and exchanges on AFRICOM as part of the US imperialist agenda in our continent. It is one of the key and most dangerous instruments, through which the US seeks to reconfigure the African continent, capture some of its key natural resources and generally consolidate its dominance on the continent.

Progressive and democratic forces on our continent also need to use its critique of AFRICOM as one key platform to build a strong continental peace movement. Building a peace movement requires that we invert the strategy implied in AFRICOM, to prioritise development in the African continent as the primary goal, under which we should subsume all else, including our military strategies. The only real foundation for lasting peace in our continent, an end to conflicts and wars is autonomous development of the African continent, and ensure that its resources are used to benefit the African people.

Progressive opposition to AFRICOM is one key platform around which to build a network of progressive and democratic forces in our continent. This requires the mobilisation of our people in the continent, by ensuring that we do not leave matters of peace and development to governments alone.

In engaging with AFRICOM it is also important to engage with other progressive forces globally, including the mobilisation of progressive civil society in the US. Our challenge is that of elevating peace and development as the key challenges facing our continent, and these cannot be addressed through military solutions.

The SACP appeals to all progressive and democratic forces on our continent, and indeed globally, to start in earnest to share information, analysis and strategies on AFRICOM



Swaziland: A parasite on the Southern African economy?

By Bongani Masuku

Swaziland, like all countries that have undergone colonial subjugation is still suffering from the legacy of colonial plunder, defined by skewed economies, over-reliance on a particular major commodity, development and underdevelopment co-existing together and other such key defining features of a colonial or semi-colonial economy.

This legacy in the case of Swaziland took the form of an elite, which is the royal family particularly, that is highly integrated into the global parasitic system as a marginal partner of global powerful forces, feeding on the ruthless exploitation of workers and the rural poor in particular.

With such natural abundance and massive endowment, coupled with a very small population, Swaziland could easily out-class most economies of the developing world. This is also the reason why for sometime Swaziland had always been classified as a middle-income country, basing it on its GDP per capita, which is a questionable measurement, though.

SACU and Swaziland: Southern African taxpayers subsidising royal luxury and parasitism

In the Mail and Guardian newspaper of South dated, 13-19 July, 2007, an article on SACU and the whole tariff debate was published, which indicated that, "luxury imports into South Africa provided 56% of Swaziland's budget last year". It went on to say, "If South African consumers tighten their belts, Swaziland and Lesotho will bear the brunt".

The most interesting observation made by the journalist was posed as a question to the effect that, "Did you know that, when you buy an imported car, you may be helping to finance a school in Lesotho or a new Maybach for King Mswati 111 of Swaziland".

It goes on to say, "the tariff on cars currently stands at 25%. To avoid complicating the argument, let us imagine a fully imported luxury station wagon bought from a manufacturer that exports no cars from South Africa. Call it a Volbaru. A rough indicative calculation breaks down the revenue pool like this; If the local distributor paid R200 000 for your new family wagon, then R50 000 in dues would have been levied before mark-ups and VAT were added. Volbaru has no export credits, so all of that goes into the SACU customs pool. Just over half is divided among the BLNS, with about R5000 going to the Swaziland government and about R4 100 to Lesotho. Unfortunately, due to lack of budget transparency in Swaziland, we cannot tell you how much of that might have been spent on Mswati's peccadilloes"

These statements say volumes about the country's budgetary crisis as a result of the poorly performing economy, poor management of the economy, economic bleeding due to institutionalised plunder and corruption.

It also indicates the extent to which the Swazi economy has become a burden on the regional economy and efforts by the continent to extricate itself of the burden of underdevelopment and poverty, whatever the challenges that remain.

The only thing that saves Swaziland from degenerating to the point of almost total collapse, probably to the magnitude of the Zimbabwean economy is the following factors;

  • The fact that the Swazi currency, the lilangeni is pegged to the South African rand serves as a stabiliser to the Swazi economy

  • The size of the Swazi population is small comparatively and its reverberations do not echo much throughout the region as does a population as that of Zimbabwe

  • Swaziland benefited from apartheid economy, because it was used by the apartheid regime as a fronting country into international markets, with goods fraudulently marked, "made in Swaziland", to be admitted to international markets and certainly, there we economic spill-overs from that, but also it shielded the country from the huge sacrifices and extremes of apartheid destruction that were suffered by countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania, for instance.

In the context of the on-going discussions about global and regional economic restructuring, am afraid the consequences for parasitism are dire, not only for the said elites who benefit from plunder, but for everyone in the country under scrutiny. With the lid blown off by the neo-liberal bulldozer of economic partnership agreements or the general WTO discourse, the worst is yet to come.

If more than half of all duties, said to be around 54% in 2006 are paid out to BLNS countries, including Botswana, the wealthiest member, despite the fact that most imports into the customs union go to South Africa, in what is said to be a "growing fiscal transfer" by some researchers, then the call for the reconsideration of the current revenue formula sends a serious message to particularly the poorest members of SACU, Swaziland and Lesotho.

The cost of the current transfers is said to be costing South Africa's taxpayer about 1% of its GDP, which is supposed to be around R3 billion (forgive my estimates). However, the most important message about all this is the warning issued by the South African treasury to the effect that the two countries, Swaziland and Lesotho are "now dangerously reliant on South African consumers' continued appetite for imports to fund their government expenditure. This means, the introduction of new credit laws and increased interest rates in South Africa brings always proclaim the nearing disaster in these countries.

Bongani Masuku is COSATU's International Secretary and former President of Swaziland Youth Congress. He writes this in his personal capacity