Monday, May 23, 2011

India starts trade talks with African countries in effort to rival China

David Smith in Johannesburg
Monday 23 May 2011 16.29 BST

The Indian prime minister arrives in Ethiopia to bolster economic and political links in a new 'scramble for Africa'

India's prime minister and dozens of business leaders began trade talks in Ethiopia on Monday as the Asian giant strives to catch up with China in what has been dubbed "the new scramble for Africa".

Manmohan Singh received a red-carpet welcome as he led a delegation to the India-Africa summit in Addis Ababa, aiming to trumpet historical and cultural links with the continent in an effort to emerge from Beijing's shadow.

"The India-Africa partnership rests on three pillars of capacity building and skill transfer, trade and infrastructure development," said Singh at the start of the six-day trip to Ethiopia and Tanzania. "Africa is emerging as a new growth pole of the world, while India is on a path of sustained and rapid economic development." The trade meeting is to be attended by 15 African leaders. On its fringes was an India show comprising business seminars, cultural projects and a trade exhibition.

Bilateral India-Africa trade has grown from about £620m in 2001 to £28.5bn in 2010. India's commerce and industry minister, Anand Sharma, hopes it will reach £43bn by 2012. Some 250 Indian companies have invested, mainly in telecommunications and chemical and mining companies.

But India remains about a decade behind its Asian rival. China says its two-way trade stands at £75bn, a 43.5% increase on the previous year, and up from just £620m in 1992. It has built roads, bridges, railways and power stations in return for access to markets and resources.

Brahma Chellaney, professor at the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research, told Reuters: "India is massively playing catch-up to China in Africa, and only in recent years is it trying to engage the continent in a serious way. But it is trying to build political and economic ties, and position itself as different to China, which has acquired the image of being a new imperial power."

The fierce competition between the pair for resources, minerals and food to fuel their turbo-charged economies has been likened by commentators to the so-called scramble for Africa among European countries in the 19th century.

India is especially focused on energy. The country imports 70% of its oil and has turned to new suppliers such as Nigeria, Sudan and Angola to reduce its dependence on the Middle East. It also needs uranium for its ambitious civil nuclear programme.

India is also looking to Africa to expand its diplomatic influence, especially its bid for a seat on an expanded UN security council. Defence ties with African states bordering the Indian Ocean could boost the fight against terrorism and piracy.

India's wooing of Africa includes aid, technology and education, such as a new centre in Uganda to train businesses about global markets, a diamond processing facility in Botswana, and assistance to cotton farmers in four of the continent's poorest countries.

Officials in New Delhi stress that India's links with Africa are centuries old, bolstered by trade across the Indian Ocean and a million-strong Indian diaspora across Africa. Thousands of Africans have earned degrees from Indian universities and technological institutes on scholarships funded by the Indian government.

Shyamal Gupta of the Confederation of Indian Industry told Associated Press: "India is interested in Africa not just because of its resources. It is also actively participating in the economic development of Africa."

But, like China before it, India has been criticised for turning a blind eye to human rights abuses and corruption. Its state-owned oil company has invested in Sudanese oil, and New Delhi avoided criticising the Khartoum government at the height of the Darfur crisis.

Alex Vines, head of the Africa programme at the London-based thinktank Chatham House, which produced a report on India's engagement in Africa, said: "India has enjoyed less western scrutiny over its Africa policy than China. India's concern over Chinese expansion is acute and ever present. Its anxieties are not restricted to economic competition, but extend to security matters as well.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

U.S. to Extend Haitians’ Post-Quake Immigration Status

Published: May 17, 2011

Haitians who received a special American immigration status after last year’s earthquake will be allowed an additional year and a half to live and work in the United States while their country struggles to recover, the Obama administration announced on Tuesday.

The special designation, called temporary protected status, had been available to Haitians who had lived continuously in the United States since Jan. 12, 2010, the date of the earthquake. Under this new extension, Haitians who arrived in the country as late as Jan. 12, 2011, and had lived here continuously since then will be eligible to apply.

Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, said in a statement that she was expanding and extending the program out of concern that Haitian immigrants’ “personal safety would be endangered by returning to Haiti.”

But Homeland Security Department officials said they would continue to deport Haitians who had been convicted of violent crimes or were repeat offenders and had also been ordered removed by an immigration judge. Deportations of Haitians were suspended after the earthquake but resumed in January. After a two-month pause after a deportee died of choleralike symptoms shortly after arriving in Haiti, immigration officials once again resumed the deportations in April.

The extension will not be granted to people who have been convicted of a felony or at least two misdemeanors. It will expire on Jan. 22, 2013, officials said.

About 48,000 Haitians living in the United States have secured temporary protected status since the earthquake, and an estimated 10,000 more would be eligible under the extension, officials said Tuesday, adding that application guidelines would be issued this week.

Immigrant advocates who had lobbied for the extension applauded the decision, though some also urged the administration to halt all deportations.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

AFRICOM's Libyan Expedition

How War Will Change the Command's Role on the Continent

May 9, 2011
(Professor of Strategic Studies at the U.S. Naval War College and co-chair of its Africa Regional Studies Group.)

Until Operation Odyssey Dawn began in Libya on March 19, U.S. Africa Command -- the United States’ newest combatant command, established in October 2008 -- was largely untested. There was reason to worry that AFRICOM, which would lead the operation, was too green, and its mandate too soft, for it to perform up to U.S. standards.

Yet in launching the U.S. intervention in Libya, AFRICOM, led by its commander, General Carter Ham, acquitted itself well. On the first day of the operation, it coordinated the combat operations of 11 American warships and dozens of aircraft, fired 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles, and delivered 45 Joint Direct Attack Munitions to ground targets. By March 23, AFRICOM-led coalition forces had steadily expanded the no-fly zone from northwest Libya and parts of central Libya to the entire coastline. And on March 26, AFRICOM began coordinating operations to destroy armored vehicles, effectively (if not with specific intent) providing close air support to rebel forces. AFRICOM lost only one aircraft -- an F-15 fighter that crashed on March 22 due to a mechanical malfunction -- and suffered no fatalities.

There was, however, political backlash to AFRICOM’s active fighting role in the conflict. Although the three African non-permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda -- had acquiesced to UN Resolution 1973, the bill that green-lighted the intervention, the African Union unequivocally opposed it. After the campaign began, the AU even tried to arrange a cease-fire, under which Libyan leader Muammar al Qaddafi would have opened channels for humanitarian aid and undertaken negotiations with the rebels but would also have been allowed to stay in power.

Qaddafi, of course, had been the driving force behind the creation of the AU, in 2002 (an effort he hoped would revitalize his geopolitical relevance). Many African leaders, from relatively enlightened ones such as Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to incorrigible rogues like Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, could well view Operation Odyssey Dawn as a harbinger of new liberal interventionism in Africa, and AFRICOM as its principal instrument and a potential threat to regime security. Now, especially if NATO and the Obama administration eventually use ground troops to ensure Qaddafi’s ouster, as retired U.S. Army General James M. Dubik suggested it should in an April 25 New York Times op-ed, AFRICOM will have a hard time reestablishing its bona fides with African governments, which were fairly tenuous even before the Libyan intervention.

AFRICOM was created for relatively banal bureaucratic and planning reasons -- to bring U.S. military activities in Africa, which had been inefficiently divided among three existing commands (European Command, Central Command, and Pacific Command), under a single one. But an awkward Pentagon rollout seemed to suggest that it would entail increasing the number of U.S. bases in the region and an intensification of military activity there. In particular, in 2007, the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, Ryan Henry, noted that the Command “would involve one small headquarters plus five 'regional integration teams' scattered around the continent,” and that “AFRICOM would work closely with the European Union and NATO.” These remarks planted suspicions among African officials of the United States’ “militarization” and “recolonization” of the continent.

That perception seemed to jibe with the United States’ unabashed interests: ensuring physical and diplomatic access to African oil and gas, containing growing Islamic radicalization, and forestalling terrorist attacks on the United States -- the threat of which loomed larger as al Qaeda established a franchise in North Africa (al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and Somalia’s al Qaeda–linked al Shabab became increasingly aggressive.

Until Operation Odyssey Dawn, however, AFRICOM had managed to ease Africa’s fears. The Pentagon located the command’s headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany -- electing to end increasingly fraught efforts to find a continental headquarters -- and AFRICOM’s biggest sustained military effort had been the benign Africa Partnership Station, a group of U.S. Navy ships dispatched for six months of the year to train African maritime forces. Its kinetic actions were limited to scattered counterterrorism efforts in Somalia. Even U.S. naval measures to thwart proliferation and Somali piracy, Africa’s most conspicuous international security problem in recent years, were assigned to the battle-tested Central Command (CENTCOM).

The command’s sole ground presence in Africa was the 2,000 troop-strong Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) in Djibouti, which operated in permissive countries and through multilateral channels, and therefore constituted more of a diplomatic asset than a military one. And much of AFRICOM’s time was spent providing technical and financial support to cooperative governments and helping to coordinate training for the AU’s five regional Africa Standby Brigades -- which are intended eventually to become the continent’s peacekeeping and intervention forces. Though fitful, these efforts have borne fruit. They culminated in a two-week peacekeeping simulation held in October 2010 in Addis Ababa, which involved African security forces, AFRICOM, and European military forces. Retired Nigerian Major General Samaila Iliya, co-director of the exercise, acknowledged the urgent need for the Africa Standby Force and deemed the exercise a success.

Although regaining African countries’ trust will be difficult, it is not impossible. In Africa as in Washington, the intervention in Libya is increasingly interpreted as signifying the Obama administration’s shift from a realist foreign policy to a more idealist and interventionist one. And France’s significant military involvement in Cote D’Ivoire in April, after Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to step down from power when he lost re-election triggered a bloody civil war, would tend to bolster African fears of neocolonialism. But influential members of Obama’s foreign-policy team -- including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (and his likely successor, current CIA Director Leon Panetta), national security adviser Thomas Donilon, and deputy national security adviser John Brennan -- still favor a realist approach. The administration should signal through White House and State Department policy statements that future humanitarian intervention is highly contingent on particular diplomatic, military, and humanitarian circumstances, and that the Libyan intervention constitutes neither the beginning of a trend nor a firm precedent. Secretary Gates struck the right tone during an April 8 visit to Iraq, when he said, referring to the broad political support for the Libya intervention, that “it's hard for me to imagine those kinds of circumstances being replicated anyplace else.”

Together with its post-Somalia reluctance to intervene in sub-Saharan Africa, the United States’ firm resistance to any impulse to deploy even military advisers on the ground in Libya may also provide at least partial reassurance to African governments. More broadly, AFRICOM can minimize turbulence in its relationships with them by reverting after the Libya operation to its training and support function -- and executing that better than ever. A larger budget would be required. Ramped up AFRICOM-assisted military exercises and planning programs would communicate a commitment to steady operational partnership. So would funding a long-term self-assessment of AFRICOM’s programs -- something that a recent Government Accountability Office study found that AFRICOM especially needed in order to serve the needs of its African partners. Moving AFRICOM’s headquarters from Germany to Georgia or South Carolina, as the Pentagon has planned, might also reinforce a healthy sense of distance among Africans. In word as well as in deed, the idea should be to cast the Libyan operation not as a mistake but as an exception.

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Friday, May 6, 2011

The African 'Star Wars'

It is the Pentagon's Africom versus China's web of investments - the ultimate prize: Africa's natural resources.

Pepe Escobar
26 Apr 2011 13:54

From energy wars to water wars, the 21st century will be determined by a fierce battle for the world's remaining natural resources. The chessboard is global. The stakes are tremendous. Most battles will be invisible. All will be crucial.

In resource-rich Africa, a complex subplot of the New Great Game in Eurasia is already in effect. It's all about three major intertwined developments:

1) The coming of age of the African Union (AU) in the early 2000s.

2) China's investment offencive in Africa throughout the 2000s.

3) The onset of the Pentagon's African Command (Africom) in 2007.

Beijing clearly sees that the Anglo-French-American bombing of Libya – apart from its myriad geopolitical implications – has risked billions of dollars in Chinese investments, not to mention forcing the (smooth) evacuation of more than 35,000 Chinese working across the country.

And crucially, depending on the outcome – as in renegotiated energy contracts by a pliable, pro-Western government – it may also seriously jeopardise Chinese oil imports (3 per cent of total Chinese imports in 2010).

No wonder the China Military, a People's Liberation Army (PLA) newspaper, as well as sectors in academia, are now openly arguing that China needs to drop Deng Xiaoping's "low-profile" policy and bet on a sprawling armed forces to defend its strategic interests worldwide (these assets already total over $1.2 trillion).

Now compare it with a close examination of Africom's strategy, which reveals as the proverbial hidden agenda the energy angle and a determined push to isolate China from northern Africa.

One report titled "China's New Security Strategy in Africa" actually betrays the Pentagon's fear of the PLA eventually sending troops to Africa to protect Chinese interests.

It won't happen in Libya. It's not about to happen in Sudan. But further on down the road, all bets are off.

Meddle is our middle name

The Pentagon has in fact been meddling in Africa's affairs for more than half a century. According to a 2010 US Congressional Research Service study, this happened no less than 46 times before the current Libya civil war.

Among other exploits, the Pentagon invested in a botched large-scale invasion of Somalia and backed the infamous, genocide-related Rwanda regime.

The Bill Clinton administration raised hell in Liberia, Gabon, Congo and Sierra Leone, bombed Sudan, and sent "advisers" to Ethiopia to back dodgy clients grabbing a piece of Somalia (by the way, Somalia has been at war for 20 years).

The September 2002 National Security Strategy (NSS), conceived by the Bush administration, is explicit; Africa is a "strategic priority in fighting terrorism".

Yet, the never-say-die "war on terror" is a sideshow in the Pentagon's vast militarisation agenda, which favours client regimes, setting up military bases, and training of mercenaries – "cooperative partnerships" in Pentagon newspeak.

Africom has some sort of military "partnership" – bilateral agreements – with most of Africa's 53 countries, not to mention fuzzy multilateral schemes such as West African Standby Force and Africa Partnership Station.

American warships have dropped by virtually every African nation except for those bordering the Mediterranean.

The exceptions: Ivory Coast, Sudan, Eritrea and Libya. Ivory Coast is now in the bag. So is South Sudan. Libya may be next. The only ones left to be incorporated to Africom will be Eritrea and Zimbabwe.

Africom's reputation has not been exactly sterling – as the Tunisian and Egyptian chapters of the great 2011 Arab Revolt caught it totally by surprise. These "partners", after all, were essential for surveillance of the southern Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

Libya for its part presented juicy possibilities: an easily demonised dictator; a pliable post-Gaddafi puppet regime; a crucial military base for Africom; loads of excellent cheap oil; and the possibility of throwing China out of Libya.

Under the Obama administration, Africom thus started its first African war. In the words of its commander, General Carter Ham, "we completed a complex, short-notice, operational mission in Libya and… transferred that mission to NATO."

And that leads us to the next step. Africom will share all its African "assets" with NATO. Africom and NATO are in fact one – the Pentagon is a many-headed hydra after all.

Beijing for its part sees right through it; the Mediterranean as a NATO lake (neocolonialism is back especially, via France and Britain); Africa militarised by Africom; and Chinese interests at high risk.

The lure of ChinAfrica

One of the last crucial stages of globalisation - what we may call "ChinAfrica" – established itself almost in silence and invisibility, at least for Western eyes.

In the past decade, Africa became China's new Far West. The epic tale of masses of Chinese workers and entrepreneurs discovering big empty virgin spaces, and wild mixed emotions from exoticism to rejection, racism to outright adventure, grips anyone's imagination.

Individual Chinese have pierced the collective unconscious of Africa, they have made Africans dream – while China the great power proved it could conjure miracles far away from its shores.

For Africa, this "opposites attract" syndrome was a great boost after the 1960s decolonisation – and the horrid mess that followed it.

China repaved roads and railroads, built dams in Congo, Sudan and Ethiopia, equipped the whole of Africa with fibre optics, opened hospitals and orphanages, and – just before Tahrir Square – was about to aid Egypt to relaunch its civilian nuclear programme.

The white man in Africa has been, most of the time, arrogant and condescending. The Chinese, humble, courageous, efficient and discreet.

China will soon become Africa's largest trading partner – ahead of France and the UK – and its top source of foreign investment. It's telling that the best the West could come up with to counteract this geopolitical earthquake was to go the militarised way.

The external Chinese model of trade, aid and investment – not to mention the internal Chinese model of large-scale, state-led investments in infrastructure – made Africa forget about the West while boosting the strategic importance of Africa in the global economy.

Why would an African government rely on the ideology-based "adjustments" of IMF and the World Bank when China attaches no political conditions and respects sovereignty – for Beijing, the most important principle of international law? On top of it, China carries no colonial historical baggage in Africa.

Essentially, large swathes of Africa have rejected the West's trademark shock therapy, and embraced China.

Western elites, predictably, were not amused. Beijing now clearly sees that in the wider context of the New Great Game in Eurasia, the Pentagon has now positioned itself to conduct a remixed Cold War with China all across Africa – using every trick in the book from obscure "partnerships" to engineered chaos.

The leadership in Beijing is silently observing the waters. For the moment, the Little Helmsman Deng's "crossing the river while feeling the stones" holds.

The Pentagon better wise up. The best Beijing may offer is to help Africa to fulfil its destiny. In the eyes of Africans themselves, that certainly beats any Tomahawk.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times ( His latest book is Obama Does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). He may be reached at

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.