Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Ganging up on China & Sudan: Chad, Darfur, and the CAR on the brink of collapse

Ganging up on Beijing – Part II

I’ve been preparing in my spare time follow-on posts to my last post “Age of the Dragon: German press on China’s conquest of the schwarze Kontinent”. Like many concerned people around the world the news reports on the deteriorating crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region, eastern Chad, and the violence now spreading across the Central African Republic is both alarming and disheartening. The Chad and CAR (Central African Republic) situation has been worsening for many, many months but major international TV news networks have only recently decided to give the stories more airtime. Some key international newspapers and online journalists have done a much better job of reporting on Chad and the CAR over the past year than the TV news giants. Sudan, Chad, and the Central African Republic have all made it into the Top 10 of the 2007 Foreign Policy Failed States Index with the Khartoum regime of Omar Hassan al-Bashir taking the Nr. 1 spot for two years running. This is a region of Africa that is in serious crisis and millions of innocent civilians, particularly women and children are under tremendous pressure trying to just survive from day-to-day.

Something I read today over at Global Voices Online really drove home for me how misguided and callous some people can be about the suffering and misery of others, particularly if they are black Africans. It was a roundup post about the Chinese blogger community reactions to calls from individuals and Darfur activist groups for a threatened boycott of the upcoming Olympic Games 2008 in Beijing. Jacky, a contributing editor/writer at GVO was good enough to translate summaries of the Chinese-language posts and comments for English-language readers. I also wanted to comment on that post but decided it may be better to highlight it here at Jewels.

Note that the last entry written in Chinese is from an anonymous commenter who addresses the situation on the ground in Darfur and suggests that the Beijing government can and should do more to help alleviate the suffering of people in Sudan. Not a single other person addressed the issues of China’s support for the Khartoum regime and complicity in the atrocities taking place in Darfur including the spreading violence to Chad and the CAR. This is the type of mentality and denial that the world is up against re: China in Africa not only from the Beijing government and business community but it appears also from some “free-thinking” prosperous members of modern Chinese society. Paul Josef Goebels couldn’t have done a better job at mass brainwashing a whole society if he were alive today.

So, if (some) Chinese citizens feel that the PRC is unfairly being singled out as a supporter and provocateur of mass murder in Sudan, Chad, and now in the Central African Republic I think that it deserves some “special investigation”. Here is the latest from the biased, corrupt, double-standard, incompetent “Western media” on a region in deep crisis and the China Factor.

Dateline: Paris, June 25, 2007

An(other) International Conference on Darfur Yields Mixed Results

France’s newly elected president, Nicolas Sarkozy, along with his freshly appointed foreign minister Bernard Kouchner (a founder of Médecins sans Frontières) called an international conference on the Crisis in Darfur this week. Heck why not, nothing else seems to be working to resolve the conflicts and disagreements between the warring parties in Sudan. There has been plenty of media fanfare around this conference because its one of the first times that representatives from the U.S.A. the European Union, China, the Arab League, and the United Nations (representatives from 18 countries attended) have sat around the same table privately discussing ideas and joint strategies that could bring a halt to the horrible violence against innocent civilians trapped in Darfur and eastern Chad. The African Union is upset with ‘France and the West’ because they say the conference will be counter-productive to their own efforts and of course the Government of Sudan is ‘warily eyeing the conference’. Just two days after the conclusion of this conference what do we have to show for it? More promises to act quickly on this widening crisis which has entered its fourth year and counting.

Sudan the Passion has much more on the Paris conference with a good June 25th roundup of the Paris conference coverage from world news serivices. Here is a link to the French Foreign Ministry’s website with press releases and statements from the Ministerial Meeting of the Enlarged Contact Group on Dafur. The UK’s Times Online newspaper has one of the best commentaries on the Paris Conference on Darfur that I have read. Bronwen Maddox, chief foreign commentator for The Times highlights in her piece both China’s complicity in these regional conflicts and its responsibility to the world community, “Silence kills, but money and China are key to Darfur.”

Let’s face facts: the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan is very complicated and is getting more complicated and dangerous by the day. To make matters worse there are credible rumors of civil war that could flare up again between the south and north of Sudan coming from ‘reliable sources’ on the ground in southern Sudan. Why is this happening? The regime in Khartoum is simply not living up to its agreements with the government in the south on a number of points ranging from the agreed sharing of oil export revenues to fully withdrawing government troops from at least 3 southern states. At the center of the economic, political, and military support that props up the Khartoum regime are the governments of the People’s Republic of China, Russia, and key member governments of the Arab League. Let’s not leave out the various European, Middle Eastern and Asian companies conducting a very profitable business with the Khartoum regime and Khartoum’s business community.

To get a better idea about what’s happening today in Chad have a look at the excellent Washington Post Interactive multimedia special feature by Travis Fox, Crisis in Darfur Expands. The report with eyewitness testimony from several victims of the violence is shocking but also very informative. There has been plenty of recent news coverage about the lawlessness and atrocities being committed against innocent men, women and children in northern Central African Republic too. Some of the best reporting on the CAR can be found at the BBC, Washington Post, Amnesty International, MSF, IPS, the New York Times and Topix. The U.K. Channel 4 News has just aired a very disturbing news report about French military operations against an (alleged) rebel-held village in northern CAR “France’s African War?

Dateline: Washington, D.C. May 28, 2007

France gets 'Rackleyed'

Dr. Edward B. Rackley has written an excellent background article about France’s relationships with its former colonies in sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Rackley provides a clarification of ‘Francafrique’, a corrupt system of policies and practices between former French government administrations, French companies, and African leaders. Rackley explains how this policy may change under the new political leadership of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. In his May 28th article for 3 Quarks Daily Edward Rackley writes (excerpts):

Could France’s new odd couple—Sarkozy and Kouchner—spell the end of French privilege for Africa’s most venal? by Edward B. Rackley

In the 1960s, post-colonial Africa was the most hopeful place on the planet. Post-partum exuberance in Europe’s former colonies was infectious and abundant. Yet fate has not been kind to sub-Saharan Africa. From Namibia to Guinea to Somalia, the path of most sub-Saharan nations has traced an arc of intimate complicity with the predatory appetites of their former colonial masters. Nowhere has this neo-colonial continuation of anti-development and enrichment by and for the few been more evident than in France’s former colonies.

The nature of governance in these ex-colonies attests to the abiding power of the self-serving instinct and immediate gain, over and against the long-term goal of national progress. Such is the confounding irony of Africa’s entire post-colonial era in nations previously occupied by France, Britain, Portugal and Belgium alike: why is the colonial, predatory model of governance so faithfully re-enacted by ruling African elites? It’s as if all that negative conditioning only succeeded in instilling a predatory instinct in the new ruling class. Why are Mandela-style visions for collective prosperity not more common, given the shared experience of subjugation and occupation across the continent?

Two to Tango

Colonialism’s direct rule in Africa was subjugation globalized. African independence in the early 1960s opened the door to fresh national possibilities. New African leaders claimed to reject the culture and values of the former occupier but happily overtook their infrastructure, education systems and administrative apparatus. “Authenticity” campaigns were launched in many countries; western attire and Christian names were banned in an effort to restore the indigenous to its rightful pride of place. Private companies held by former colonials were nationalized and dispersed among the new political elites, the results of which were just as disastrous as Mugabe’s land re-distribution schemes in Zimbabwe. Yet genuinely radical or “clean slate” beginnings, in affairs of the state as in art, are illusory.

During the cold war, western foreign policy in post-colonial Africa sought political stability, access to raw materials, and a common front against the Soviet threat. Military hardware and training for elite presidential guards was a common form of international assistance, a quid pro quo in exchange for access to resources and for remaining faithful to western capitalism. African leaders were not pressed on human rights, “good governance” or controlling corruption as they are today. The massacres of Idi Amin were insignificant compared to the Soviet threat.

Shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall, western strategies towards Africa shifted as the need for quid pro quo camaraderie faded. The US gradually disengaged. Multiple internecine wars arose to topple African dictators, newly vulnerable without superpower protection. The UN struggled to contain the violence in Somalia, Liberia, Congo-Kinshasa, Congo-Brazzaville, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Angola, and more recently Ivory Coast and Sudan. Peace deals were brokered, mostly on the cheap, resulting in a new crop of leaders.

As Africa imploded in the 1990’s, France in particular found itself on the receiving end of a massive outpouring of illegal immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. This influx continues at a massive pace regularly making headlines in the international media. For Sarkozy and other EU leaders, the “African disaster” and the ongoing human exodus towards Europe constitutes a social, economic and political crisis and hot potato, engaging and enraging all sides of the domestic political spectrum.

Read the full text of Edward Rackley’s article at 3 Quarks Daily.

Update June 28th: TIME Europe Magazine has just published an excellent article about French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his work preparing for the international conference on Darfur held this week in Paris. Read "Diplomat without Borders" by Vivienne Walt.


Dateline: New York, May 16, 2007
Francafrique gets slammed at the WSJ

Buried in the lengthy but informative article above by Edward Rackley is a link to another great article about France’s dubious post-colonial relationships with key Francophone African countries. The piece was written by David Gauthier-Villars for the Wall Street Journal on May 16th. France Watcher has a full reprint of the article in case you don’t have a paid subscription to read the archived version at the WSJ. Here is an excerpt from Villar’s piece to help whet your appetite and interest:

Colonial-Era Ties to Africa Face a Reckoning in France


The Wall Street Journal - May 16, 2007

On the evening of March 4, 10 French paratroopers reached Birao, Central African Republic, and dropped near an airstrip captured by rebel militia. The paratroopers ambushed the rebels, killing several and reclaiming the airport for the government.

In France, neither the public nor parliament was informed of the attack for three weeks. Coordinating the mission was the "Cellule Africaine," a three-person office nestled behind the Elysée, France's presidential palace. This wasn't the first time the office has been involved in the Central African Republic's internal affairs: In 1979, France toppled the former colony's self-proclaimed emperor and reinstalled his predecessor.

For the past half-century, the secretive and powerful "African Cell" has overseen France's strategic interests in Africa, holding sway over a wide swath of former French colonies. Acting as a general command, the Cell uses France's military as a hammer to install leaders it deems friendly to French interests. In return, these countries give French industries first crack at their oil and other natural resources. Sidestepping traditional diplomatic channels, the Cell reports only to one person: the President.

But with France's new President Nicolas Sarkozy preparing to assume office later today, the African Cell's days may be numbered. There are accusations the French military bears some responsibility for the genocide of 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, charges the government strenuously denies. There's fierce debate over the French military's continuing presence in the Ivory Coast, where soldiers were dispatched in 2002 when rebels threatened to overthrow President Laurent Gbagbo.The Cell's close ties to oil giant Elf Aquitaine, where top executives were jailed on corruption charges, were a source of embarrassment. And a former Cell chief is now facing charges related to arms trafficking to Angola.

Critics say the Cell's support of non-democratic African regimes, an artifact of France's colonial past, is preventing these nations from making progress to modernity. And Africa, once evidence of imperial grandeur, is now viewed by many French as the source of a continuing flood of poor immigrants.

Read the full text at the Wall Street Journal or at France Watcher.

Dateline: Ndjamena, Chad June 7, 2007
A French Glimpse of France & China in Africa

The New York Times Shanghai bureau chief, Howard French, who has been traveling across the continent of Africa in May and June has published an article about China’s surprising presence in Chad and follows-up with a June 14th piece titled ‘The Chinese Footprint Growing Across Africa’. In his June 7th article “Tattered French African empire looks toward China” he writes (excerpts):

NDJAMENA, Chad: When I last visited this country, in the late 1990's, watching CNN at a French-run hotel here, or for that matter in many former French colonies in the region, meant carrying a screwdriver and readjusting the television's tuner to have some choices beyond French-language fare.

Less than a decade ago, the French claim on this region was still so strong, and Africa's importance to France's view of its own place in the world correspondingly so, that the French were paranoid about expanding American influence on the continent. This went so far as to interpret the American-aided ouster of Zaire's longtime dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, as Washington's bid to supplant France in Africa.

Amid such a climate, even CNN was regarded in Africa by the possessive French as an arm of an encroaching American empire to be held at bay.

Imagine my surprise then, arriving in Ndjamena late at night on a visit from China, when I turned on my television at the French-run Sofitel Hotel to find that the program blaring from Channel 1 was a starchy variety show in Chinese, courtesy of that country's state broadcaster CCTV.

The point here is not to lament the arrival of the Chinese in what has for so long been a pillar of the economic, military and political empire that France has labored to maintain in this part of the world. It is rather to pronounce the inevitable conclusion of its demise.

Virtually wherever one looks in French-speaking Africa today one finds evidence of a postcolonial policy in tatters, and more startling still, given the tenacity of French claims over the decades, an open sense of failure, of exhaustion and of frank resignation.

There was a time, not long ago, when virtually every car on the street in France's cloistered African client states was French, when no big deal was let without a French contractor's securing a big payday, and where the downtowns of African capitals pulsed with French businesspeople and "cooperants," or aid workers....

Despite the recent oil wealth, Chad seems poorer and far more decrepit than when I first visited more than 20 years ago. Nowadays, the only French cars rolling on Ndjamena's dusty streets are battered old taxis of that vintage. All the new vehicles are Japanese.

From oil to telecommunications, all the big new investments seem to be Chinese. And to the extent there is any construction going on, as in so much of the continent today, it is Chinese companies landing the contracts.

A reminder of the French presence comes every morning with the roar of fighter jets that take off from a military base at the edge of town. Americans and Chinese seek riches, Chad gets ever more corrupt, and by appearances poorer, and puzzlingly, even to itself nowadays, France is left holding the bag, maintaining a military base that is probably the only thing that stands between this country and outright warlordism….

Chad, in fact, is anything but an anomaly. From next door in the Central African Republic, to Ivory Coast, once Paris's proudest showcase, France's positions in Africa have been overtaken by chaotic events and by competitors, most pointedly of late the Chinese, who recognize a good vacuum when they see one. Here and there, through the deployment of troops, France has been able to hold the line against disorder, if barely, but a country that for so long punched above its weight has proved utterly incapable of helping its African clients move forward.

How did things reach this pass? During the long tenure of Jacques Chirac, France underestimated Africans and China alike, while mistaking America as its rival in a part of the world where Washington has never had grand ambitions or even much vision.

Chirac talked down democracy on the continent as a frivolous luxury and coddled many of its most corrupt dictators, the only conditions for entree at the Élysée Palace were chummy personal ties, flattery of France and business for the clutch of big French companies that have done well for themselves on the continent by hewing close to power.

In the French world, this ruinous condominium, of French politicians who support corrupt African leaders while pushing business deals for their friends, is known as FranceAfrique, and it has cost Africa and France dearly….

Read the full text of Howard’s article at the International Herald Tribune.

Note: A Glimpse of the World, Howard’s personal blog presents more articles and photography by the journalist as he offers up views of China and the Chinese through the eyes of a black man, something unique in the international press and news media scene for a change. More articles on Africa and China by top journalists such as the renowned Nicholas D. Kristof and the new foreign correspondent for Africa Lydia Polgreen can be found in the New York Times Africa section. It’s a pity that the New York Times charges people (premium paid content) for much of their “old news”.

Howard French reports at his blog that the Shanghai weekly newspaper Wai Tan Hua Bao (English: the Bund) has just published a cover story feature about his photographic essay "Disappearing Shanghai" in their lifestyle section for the June 28th issue. You can also visit his new photography website Glimpse to check out his fine camera work in China.

Dateline: Germany, June 27, 2007

An Old Chinese Proverb about Africa(ns)

In my previous post about China in Africa I focused on an article from the highly respected German magazine Der Spiegel titled ‘The Age of the Dragon: China’s Conquest of Africa’. At the end of that feature story about Chinese business activities in sub-Saharan Africa there is a quote from a Chinese farm owner living in Zambia who describes his experiences working with the locals. The ‘old Chinese saying’ uttered to the German journalist by this former peasant-turned-entrepreneur clearly reveals a disturbing mentality held by far too many Chinese businesspeople and officials working in Africa today. Mr. Si Su, a farmer from China’s Jiangsu Province and now the proud owner of Sunlight Farm near Lusaka said:

When the tiger is [away] in the mountains, the ape is king!

My analysis: The Great Apes are highly intelligent and tend to work in groups. If a predator like a lion or tiger pisses them off for an extended period of time chances are that they will get together, communicate about the problem, hunt down, surround, attack, and feast collectively upon a tiger or any other threatening beast. Be careful Mr. Si Su, be careful.

Well, that’s it for today. Next article in the pipeline will be based upon the Christian Science Monitor’s latest 4-part special feature on China in Africa titled “Is China Good for Africa? - Lessons from Sudan”. What, you haven’t read it yet? It’s a must!

Related articles and resources

The Christian Science Monitor
Is China Good for Africa: Part I
In Sudan, China focuses on oil wells, not local needs, 06/25/07
China boosts African economies, offering a ‘second opportunity’, 06/25/07

France24 News Channel (new international news service from France)
France24 special coverage: Crisis in Darfur and the Paris Conference
Rice to visit France for Darfur talks, 06/22/07

Financial Times (London)
China insists on ‘tied aid’ in Africa, 06/35/07
France out on a limb to be Sudan peace broker, 06/22/07

Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace
The Failed States Index 2007

International Herald Tribune
Tattered French African empire looks toward China, 06/07/07
The Chinese Footprint Growing Across Africa, 06/14/07

EU declines to take on China over loans, human rights, 06/28/07
Letter from China: One debate Beijing won't be able to control, 06/28/07

Times Online (UK)

Silence kills, but money and China are key to Darfur, 06/27/07

Council on Foreign Relations
Sudan, Chad, and the Central African Republic, 01/02/07
The French Military in Africa, 03/22/07
The Pentagon's New Africa Command, 05/03/07

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1 comment:

imnakoya said...

Excellent analysis BRE. I didn't know much of the happenings in CAR - it's not a region that shows up on my radar screen often. Thanks for the insight and links. I hope it's getting hot in that Rhine-land of yours. Be well!