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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 14, No. 31, 13 August 2015

In this Issue:

Red Alert

As we prepare for our transition from winter, in Sudan innocent lives are facing bombardment in summer

By Ian Beddowes and Alex Mashilo

The view of the world which we receive through the established media outlets is frequently highly distorted. Not only are we presented with an entirely false picture (as was the case with Libya before its destruction by NATO) - but many major conflicts are simply not reported or are severely under-reported. In South Africa, in most instances the local media functions like a transmission belt of media reports selected and decided by Western imperialist news agencies or broadcasters. Many developments that take place in Africa are, for instance, first processed in Western imperialist news rooms and then transmitted back to us via "our" local mass media.

How many people are aware that the biggest war since the Second World War in terms of the number of people killed was the DRC War of 1998 - 2003, which, according to UN statistics, killed 5.4 million people?

Everybody has heard of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and how it is beheading people who do not exactly agree with its interpretation of Islam - but how many people are aware that the principled armed resistance to ISIS comes from the Kurdish Communist Party and its allies which control and administer a territory the size of France?

Everybody has heard of the split between Sudan and South Sudan, but how many are aware that further north, the Sudan People' Liberation Movement - North (SPLM-N), also controls and administers a territory which includes the provinces of South Kordofan and the Blue Nile and is home to some 10 million people?

Or that there is even a larger liberated area in Darfur, but with about 5 million people?

Sudan became independent from Britain in 1956. Fearing domination by political Islam, a group called Anyanya based in the South began sporadic resistance even before Sudan became independent. In 1972 the Addis Ababa Agreement established the Southern Sudan Autonomous Region. But in 1983, President Gafaar Nimeiry introduced Sharia law into the whole of Sudan, breaking the agreement and thus starting the Second Sudanese Civil War. In 1985, Nimeiry was ousted by a coup which resulted in a short-lived democratically elected government under Saddiq al-Mahdi which attempted to make peace with the South. But in 1989, Omar al-Bashir, a member of the extremist Muslim Brotherhood seized power through a military coup and brought terror and blood-shed to the people of South Sudan.

This time the resistance to the Islamic fundamentalists was led by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) led by the visionary John Garang; Garang consistently supported the idea that Sudan should be one nation in which ethnic and religious diversity was recognised.

In a statement earlier this year, Comrade Yasir Aman, Secretary-General of the SPLM-N had this to say:

"Dr. John Garang correctly described the problem of South Sudan as the problem of Sudan, and that the only resolution, is for it to be considered in the context of preserving the unity of Sudan, by admitting its national character and the need to have unity on a new basis that reflects on, and respects (its) diversity. The failures of the Sudanese successive governments to acknowledge this fact led Sudan to the path it is currently on, and more so, to the cessation of South Sudan, and failing to recognise the present issues of Darfur, Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and other marginalised areas in Sudan within the framework of their national dimension will lead to the same result.

"Ironically, the vision of the New Sudan is needed today more than ever by the two Sudans to preserve their unity, and move into a new path and a democratic era of equal citizenship, development and social justice, and it may be the only game in town. Moreover, the vision of the New Sudan, can still provide a framework to reunite the two Sudans; a "Sudan Union" that is between two independent states..."

On 9th January 2005, after months of negotiation, Comrade John Garang signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which made him First Vice-President of Sudan under a power-sharing agreement with Omar al-Bashir. On 30th July 2005, returning home from talks with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, the Ugandan presidential helicopter crashed killing all on board.

Many thought that the concept of a diverse, democratic and united Sudan died with him, but the SPLM-N, in alliance with other democratic forces, is still pursuing the vision of John Garang.

But Omar al-Bashir's National Congress Party NCP is not prepared to accept that just vision. As we prepare our transition from winter in our hemisphere, al-Bashir is preparing to intensify his aerial bombardment of the new South in North Sudan, mainly liberated zones, judging by his now institutionalised summer military offensives. During this brutal campaign, many innocent lives, including children and vulnerable women, are killed.

During his presentation of the South African Communist Party (SACP) Central Committee Political Report to the Party's Special National Congress on 8 July, General Secretary Comrade Blade Nzimande condemned in strongest terms the atrocities committed against humanity by al-Bashir's NCP regime.

Speaking in response to the South African High Court ruling that South Africa should have arrested al-Bashir while he was in the country for an African Union summit and handed him over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution, Nzimande stated in no uncertain terms that the SACP holds no brief whatsoever for al-Bashir, and equally condemned the ICC. The ICC was established to serve as a solution through justice but has since veered away from that purpose.

The ICC is widely criticised for having become the imperialist hitman who exploits political conflicts to further imperialist economic interests through selective "justice" and what appears to be highly organised but targeted injustice through manipulation of proceedings. The ICC has also been criticised, through some of its decisions, as a source for potentially large scale conflicts than the ones it pretends it seeks to resolve. Many in South Africa who criticised the ICC have pointed to its push for the arrest of al-Bashir in the country as an example.

Africa has to take control of its destiny, build credible institutions and capacity to stop and punish such crimes as the ones committed by al-Bashir and his collaborators in the continent!

Equally important, perhaps even more, all progressive people must step up revolutionary solidarity with the oppressed against the perpetrators of oppression and all the crimes associated with it!!

Cde Ian Beddowes is General Secretary of the Zimbabwe Communist League and is based in South Africa where he is also Spokesperson for human rights group Housing Class Action. Alex Mashilo is SACP Spokesperson.


Africa: What Obama didn’t say was more revealing than what he did

“For most African countries, China offers better deals…

“Unlike the US, China’s presence in Africa is accompanied by little or no rhetoric or sentiment on rights, governance or any social issues.”

By Mark Waller

Africans are used to having heads of state from the global north coming and telling them what they should be doing to lift their countries out of poverty. President Barak Obama’s visit to Kenya and Ethiopia in East Africa at the end of July in many respects upheld that time-honoured tradition. But with an important difference.

Obama’s Kenyan paternal family background made his presence in the country as much a homecoming as a state visit. He was welcomed with open arms by an adoring public and intensely upbeat local media. The same went for his visit to Ethiopia. For many people Obama is an African who just happens to be President of the United States.

This made it all the easier for him to speak frankly about things that worry many people throughout Africa.

In his speeches in Nairobi and Addis Ababa he took up problems that are all too familiar on this continent but which don’t always get the high profile attention they deserve: the violent oppression of women and girls, corruption, bad governance in the form of leaders clinging to power, and support for gay rights.

The first three were widely reported by local media. But it mainly ignored the rigidly taboo issue of gay rights, which Obama raised while in Kenya. Most African countries outlaw LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) identities. Kenya’s penal code, for instance, rules against homosexuality, which can carry a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

On the need to rid society of misogyny, Obama scolded Kenyan leaders and a selection of society’s elite gathered at the US Embassy in Nairobi: “Any nation that fails to educate its girls or employ its women and allow them to maximize their potential is doomed to fall behind the global economy. Imagine if you have a team and you don’t let half of the team play, that’s stupid… That makes no sense.”

He was equally forthright on the blight of corruption: “Nothing will unlock Africa’s economic potential more than ending the cancer of corruption,” he told African Union leaders assembled in the AU’s splendid assembly hall – a gift from China – in Addis Ababa.

These were the topics that grabbed the most mainstream attention, including of news media worldwide. For the most part they were welcomed as a breath of fresh air compared to the speeches people have to put up with most of the time from political leaders in Africa.

But perhaps that’s all it was – air. Because while Obama’s visit did result in some tangible investment benefits, what his audience got for the most part was a great dollop of worthy sentiment honed in the imperative. Granted, Obama did it better than almost any other head of state usually does, and he laid on the easy charm and eloquence that we have come to associate with him to make it memorable.

And yet, despite his African roots, Obama was seemingly unable to escape the mindset of a leader of a global imperial power coming to put Africa’s house in order, as if the main topics he dwelt on – gay rights included – are not already the subject of much pained effort and struggle for progress in government and society. If he had acknowledged that they are, it might have offered some perspective and nuance.

For Africans, a rule of thumb in such situations is to imagine what the effect would be if they could turn the tables. What if Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta addressed a joint session of the US Congress and said, “C’mon guys, if you really want to get the US economy moving you’ve got to stop oppressing black Americans and stop shooting them on the streets the way you do. Because if you have a team and you don’t let all the team play, that’s stupid…That makes no sense”, and so on? Imagine the headlines.

No matter how right the US President was in the points he made, or even how well most of them were received among local media pundits, it would have made far more sense to cap the rhetoric and offer some practical support. Social spending support for advancing the education and skills of Kenyan women and girls would be welcome. So would boosting the African Union’s democracy building capabilities committing states to improved democratic governance. But sentiment is cheaper and makes a more immediate splash.

With much of Obama’s input on Africa’s problems, we were left with a “Yes, but…” feeling. He was right to point out the corrosive impact of corruption, but on shakier ground when he stated that tackling it is the main key to realizing Africa’s economic potential.

Most African governments are fully aware that lack of education and skills, infrastructure and other areas of human development are the main blocks to economic prosperity.

Corruption doesn’t automatically repel investment. Most transnational corporations that are happy to invest in African countries are rewarded with tailor-made privileges or operate in the ubiquitous special economic zones that shield them from being hassled by corrupt officials.

Corruption is not an abstract evil. It is a crude and malign form of wealth redistribution in vastly unequal societies. It can wither away with the help of law enforcement and clampdowns once a more equitable dispensation is achieved. But it is notoriously hard to shift. It is more of a symptom than a cause of underdevelopment.

Obama was also right to take a swipe at the erroneous and harmful stereotypes of Africa as beset by war and poverty, long prevalent in the West. But war or armed conflict and poverty are still terrible blights in quite a few African countries and regions.

Twenty-eight African countries are involved in of affected by 21armed conflicts of different types. Their numbers have grown following a decrease in armed conflicts after the end of the Cold War. New ones have emerged, and they are generally rooted in the meagre levels of social and economic development that most African populations, particularly in sub-Sahara Africa, have to endure.

This doesn’t mean that conflict and poverty typecast Africa any more than a lust for invading or sending drones to attack other countries fills the hopes and desires of the average US citizen.

Africa is anyway too diverse, the strong points of its societies too varied and the dynamics of its evident rising prosperity too wide ranging for it to be accurately typified the way it usually is. But it would be unwise to ignore the impact of poverty and armed conflict as very real and growing problems facing parts of the continent.

Obama did address some of the problems of armed conflicts, but more in terms of anti-terrorism efforts against al Qaeda, ISIL, alShabaab and Boko Haram and of strengthening AU peacekeeping.

What he didn’t mention was the bigger picture of US military involvement in Africa, especially with the under-the-radar US Africa Command (AFRICOM). This is steadily increasing its presence on the continent, and with its “training exercises” gaining an influence over the defence forces of certain, mainly smaller, African states.

Boko Haram style insurgencies are major worries but the roots of these and the more established conflicts of the kind we see in the Democratic Republic of Congo, lie in persistent inequality and impoverishment, which the conflicts in turn perpetuate.

Western corporate involvement in Africa and the constant, decades old, neo-liberal recipes for “structural adjustment” (known in the West nowadays as “austerity”) imposed by bodies such as the International Monetary Fund only exacerbate these crises by entrenching inequality, and in particular worsening the exploitation of women and girls.

Though Obama depicted US involvement in Africa as all about helping the continent realise its full potential, US rivalry with China protruded from some of his remarks.

He didn’t mention China directly but it was obvious which country he meant when he said, “economic relationships can’t simply be about building countries’ infrastructure with foreign labour or extracting Africa’s natural resources. Real economic partnerships have to be a good deal for Africa. They have to create jobs and capacity for Africans.”

True enough. But it would be misleading to assume that China doesn’t do that.

For most African countries, China offers better deals, and they result in essential infrastructure, such as power plants, railways and roads, telecommunications, transport, construction, waste disposal and upgrading ports. These are all the sorts of infrastructure that in their use and upkeep create jobs for Africans.

The vast difference in scale between US and Chinese trade with Africa also shows that the actual “good deal for Africa” should be measured against what is, by implication, a less good deal for the continent. Last year US trade with Africa was $73 billion, just under half of what it was in 2008. China, meanwhile, has doubled its trade with the continent since 2011 to $222 billion.

Unlike the US, China’s presence in Africa is accompanied by little or no rhetoric or sentiment on rights, governance or any social issues. China’s here to do business and leave the place better equipped than when it came.

The approach seems to have won over many African countries that are anyway increasingly opting for South-South economic relationships, in part because they provide a chance to delink from long-standing and notoriously unequal trade relations with European and other Western imperialist countries.

Obama’s visit to Kenya and Ethiopia did result in some tangible investment deals, though, notably for building a 100MW wind-power plant in Kenya worth $155 million, plus another $46 million toward a wind farm that will produce up to 301 MW of power.

By contrast, China’s financing of a 50MW solar facility in the country, together with a 1000MW coal-fired power plant amounts to cash investments six times larger than those of the US, and will result in the generation of two and a half times the amount of electricity.

For the crowds and audiences in Kenya and Ethiopia who came to hear Obama, his words struck a chord and his visit was momentous. But it’s hard not to think that it is what he didn’t say that was more revealing about US designs on Africa than what he did say about fixing the continent’s problems.

Cde Mark Waller is a member of the Communist Party of Finland living in South Africa, and writes in personal capacity. A version of this article was first published in Peoples World, 7 August 2015

Umsebenzi Online is the online voice of the South African Working Class