History of Mali’s Bambara/Bamana

The Bambara are a part of the large Mande ethnic group in West Africa whose roots can be traced to Tichitt in southern Mauritania where urban centres thrived from at least 1500 B.C. Today, the Bambara live primarily in Mali but also in Guinea, Burkina Faso and Senegal. At present, around 80% of the population in Mali speaks Bambara regardless of ethnicity. It is mutually intelligible with the Manding and Diola languages and along with French is today an official language of Mali.

In their own language however they refer to themselves as Bamana or Banmana meaning ‘those who accept no master’. Some scholars have suggested that the name may be originally derived from the Mande words Ban “to reject or repel” and Ana denoting “God”. However, since they certainly accepted their Gods this would be an unlikely name for them to confer upon themselves. It seems much more credible that Bambara is an  inaccurate French translation of Bamana.

The Bamana empire then was a large pre-colonial state ruled by the Kulubali dynasty that was centred in Segou in today’s Mali. Around 1640, Fa Sine became the third Faama (Mande for king) of an expanding Bamana tribal network. In the early 18th century Mumari Kulubali extended their influence. He joined an egalitarian youth organization in Segou known as a ton reorganized its structure and declared himself biton, or chief. Now Biton Kulubari, he built up an army of several thousand men and made successful slave raids against the neighbouring Fulani, the Soninke and the Mossi, founding the city of Bla and briefly capturing Tomboktou. The tomb of Biton Mumari Kulubari is well preserved and can be seen today at Segou koro.

Three more faamas ruled until 1748 when the throne fell into anarchy. Then, a freed slave named Ngollo Diarra seized power and re-established a degree of stability. Mungo Park on his expedition through Bamana territory two years after Diarra’s death in 1795 left us with the following impression of Segou – a testament to the Empire’s prosperity under his reign:

“The view of this extensive city, the numerous canoes on the river, the crowded population, and the cultivated state of the surrounding countryside, formed altogether a prospect of civilization and magnificence that I little expected to find in the bosom of Africa.”

Diarra’s decendents, known as the Ngolosi, continued to rule the Empire until its fall to the jihadist Toucouleur conqueror El Hadj, Umar Tall in 1861. Though the Bamana today adhere to Islam many still practise their traditional rituals particularly in the worship of their ancestors. Society is patrilineal and patriarchal,though few women wear the veil, and social structures are still reinforced through the old fraternal ton systems.

Different caste and ethnic groups tended to occupy certain predetermined roles within the Bamana social and political system. For instance, ethnic groups such as the Maraka were merchants specialising in desert trade but then advanced to agricultural production using captured slaves. The Jula specialised in long distance trade and the Fula communities in cattle breeding. The Bozo ethnic group largely comprised war captives and were turned to fishing and ferrying activities. Internal caste systems such as griots, metalworkers and other vocations were in time denuded with the collapse of the Bamana state. The ton tradition is especially strong particularly in farming (Chi Wara Ton) and hunting (Donzo Ton).

The Donzo Ton age-group fraternity has received prominence recently in the Ivory Coast where they became guards for hire in the unstable years before the 2002 civil war. These hunting fraternities have become more popular it is believed also because of the massive deforestation in west Africa which has left bare previously untraceable spaces. It is believed that amulets (gris-gris) protect them from harm and give them heightened powers such as amplified hearing and vision. They operate in much the same way as a Western guild.

Today, many of the Bamana are cotton farmers. 80% of Mali’s export earnings come from exporting cotton to the Far East where it is fashioned in Export Processing Zones into clothes and textiles for consumption in the West. They have seen a massive drop in their incomes over the past twenty years with the erasure of the UN’s commodity price stabilisation mechanism. Their principle desire politically is to see an end to the crippling cotton subsidies payed to farmers in the West which has kept the international price for cotton even lower than it was back in the 70’s.


Zimbabwe’s Third Chimurenga by Bob Seery

The people of Zimbabwe are still fighting a war of independence 28yrs after it was nominally granted in 1980 with the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement. The negotiating team for the newly unified Patriotic Front led by Robert Mugabe’s Shona dominated ZANU and Joshua Nkoma’s Ndebele dominated ZAPU received verbal assurances from the then chairman of the discussions, Lord Carlisle, that the British Government would provide compensation to white farmers whose farms were required for redistribution among the colonially dispossessed black population. A ten-year hiatus was agreed upon whereby the bitter pill of the ‘willing-seller’ clause could then be constitutionally amended by the Zimbabwean government. By the time the right to compulsorily purchase was introduced in the 1992 Land Acquisition Act, 70% of the richest and most productive land still lay in the hands of only 4,500 white commercial farmers while six million African farmers eked out a precarious existence on small farms averaging 3 hectares in the increasingly barren communal areas, formerly known as the native reserves. Thomas Packenham in the Scramble for Africa’ gives us his description of how this state of affairs came into being;

” In October 1893 British troops and volunteers crossed into King Lobengula’s core territory of Matabeleland. The entire region rapidly fell into their hands as they inflicted heavy casualties on the Ndebele. Under terms of the resulting Victoria Agreement, each volunteer was entitled to 6,000 acres of land. Rather than an organized division of land, there was instead a mad race to grab the best land, and within a year 10,000 square miles of the most fertile land had been seized from its inhabitants. White settlers confiscated most of the Ndebele’s cattle in the process, a devastating loss to a cattle-ranching society such as the Ndebele. The large tracts of land now run by relatively few white settlers required workers, and the Ndebele became forced laborers on the land they once owned, essentially treated as slaves. The Shona also saw their cattle confiscated by white settlers, and were driven into poverty through the imposition of onerous taxes by the new British rulers. The inevitable uprising by the dispossessed Ndebele and Shona in 1896 was finally crushed over one year later by the British at the cost of 8,000 African lives. The region was established as a new colony in the British realm and named Rhodesia in honor of Cecil Rhodes.”

Greg Elich in ‘Zimbabwe Under Siege’ continues the story;

“Passage of the Native Reserves Order in 1899 created reserves on the most arid land, on which the indigenous inhabitants were to be herded. By 1905, nearly half of the indigenous population was confined to reserves. From 1930 onwards, Africans were not allowed to own land outside of the barren reserves. During the twenty-year period beginning in 1935, the Rhodesian regime forced an additional 67,000 African families from their homes and transported them to the reserves. As the Africans were beaten and herded into trucks at gunpoint, their homes were levelled by bulldozers. The reserves soon became overcrowded with people and cattle, and the colonial government decreed in 1944 that 49 of the reserves were overstocked. During the next thirty-some years, well over one million cattle in the reserves were either killed or confiscated for use by white settlers. As the long liberation struggle grew, Rhodesian Security Forces became increasingly repressive, executing civilians, burning villages and crops and shooting cattle”.

‘Independence’ therefore, was always somewhat illusory as long as these structural disparities in land ownership sustained the economic hegemony of an elite non-indigenous kleptocracy whose interests were safeguarded by the UK and US via IMF and World Bank policies. Powerful white landowners included members of the British House of Lords and most importantly the richest and most powerful man in Africa, who is not a ‘tin-pot dictator’ but DeBeers CEO and non-executive director of Anglo-American, Nicky Oppenheimer who has, according to Forbes an estimated personal fortune of $6.05 billion. He is the grandson of Ernest Oppenheimer, who succeeded Cecil Rhodes as carteliser-in-chief of Africa’s most lucrative natural resource and founded in 1917 with John Pierpoint Morgan jnr. the Anglo-American Corporation which at the time of his death in 1957 controlled 95% of the world’s supply of diamond production.

Today, Anglo-American, whose net income in 2007 was over $7 billion has several prominent subsidiaries including DeBeers itself, the world’s largest diamond producer; Anglogold Ashanti, one of the world’s largest gold producers and Anglo Platinum, the world’s largest producer of platinum. Anglo-American, 51% of whose shares are held by American citizens have operations right across Africa including Ghana, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Botswana. In 2000, 20yrs after Zimbabwean ‘independence’ the Oppenheimer family ‘ranch’, which is more of a country within a country, still sits proudly in the midst of ten thousand square kilometres (2.4 million hectares) of prime arable farmland. It is impossible to conceive that issuing a ‘compulsory acquisition order’ as Robert Mugabe did for this particular property would do anything but invite all the hell and damnation that the sustained wrath of Africa’s most powerful dynasty could muster.

There is an unwritten rule book in the case of all too many ‘developing’ countries whereby the incumbent indigenous rulers can ensure for themselves a life of relative peace, repose and prosperity merely by allowing an agreed proportion of their country’s wealth to be siphoned away by foreign interests usually in exchange for military and financial support and the all-important collusive silence of the international media in the inevitable brutality used to quell opposition. In the early 90’s after no meaningful land reform had taken place, and after none of the feared pogroms against whites and following Zimbabwe’s acceptance of the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) in 1991, Mugabe had all the appearances of being ‘our kind of guy’. So much so that he was given a knighthood in 1994 and was much in demand by international media outlets for his predominantly honest, eloquent and insightful appraisals of various world events. Of all African leaders he was the one which Europeans in particular could most readily identify. He had a law degree from the University of London (gained during his eleven years imprisoned by Ian Smith’s apartheid Rhodesia), spoke with a surprisingly strong British accent and had inherited many of the affectations of the ‘English gentleman’. ‘All Zimbabweans should play cricket’, he once declared. ‘We should be a nation of gentleman’.

However, SAP, as for many African countries turned out to be a disaster for Zimbabwe. It offered a far too rigid formula of deregulation, privitisation, cuts in government spending, crippling taxation hikes and responded to the inevitable inflationary pressures by forcing through currency devaluations which conveniently made their exports dirt cheap for US and European purchasers. SAP also subscribed to the theory of ‘comparative advantage’ which asserts that an economy is better off ‘specialising’ in what its good at instead of diversifying its export base. It was this precise policy of cash-crop intensification to the detriment of nurturing food staples which caused the great Bengalfamine of 1770 by the British East India Company and I’m really not in any position at present to register anything but my incomprehension at its wholesale adoption at this point in the 20th century. As a consequence, subsidies were withdrawn from independent small-holders and instead focused on the development of this large-scale, heavily industrialised water table draining monoculture’ agriculture. This left many developing countries overly reliant on a favourable international stock price for those few commodities which became their specialised ‘comparative advantage’.

With the corporate mergers of the 90’s in agro-industry and mining and the vertical integration of the supply chain the ‘theory of comparative advantage’ has only exposed many developing countries to the price cartels of multinational purchasers. Staple export commodities such as sugar, tea, cocoa and cotton were up until very recently actually cheaper in non-adjusted terms than they were twenty years ago. If you find that hard to believe, given the escalating prices we pay in our supermarkets for these items and their derivatives (our clothes, half our food) just check out the historical price record on for instance the Mombassa commodity exchange. The fairtrade movement has certainly brought awareness of the immense vampirism involved here and they justifiably point to the ‘nasty’ corporations however their critique too often falls short of their own governments by whom they are largely funded, for it is they after all who had nominated the very IMF and World Bank Officials who had engineered this transnational heist to begin with.

Why would developing’ countries such as Zimbabwe have allowed their economies to be ‘restructured’ in such an evidently detrimental fashion? First of all, the newly decolonised states of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s were cash-strapped either through capital flight, wars of independence or civil wars where opposing sides were used as proxies in the ‘Grand Game’ between the USSR and the United States. Some, such as Zimbabwe, saw the futility of this stance and joined the Non-Aligned Movement, a block of 77 countries who, through their unity and under the chairmanship of Robert Mugabe succeeded, via UNCTAD, in setting price controls on international commodity fluctuations until that institution was effectively paralysed by the then G7 and replaced by the World Trade Organisation. The oil crises of the seventies meant many Western banks were awash with Saudi petrodollars and were happy to find many desperate borrowers in Africa, Latin America and south east Asia, regardless of the punitive interest rates demanded.

With the boost to neoliberalism provided by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fracturing of the Soviet Union, the IMF was now free to step fully into the breach by offering ‘help’ with balance of payments with the caveat of the sundry above-mentioned conditionalities necessitated by Structural Adjustment. No longer occupying the role of Janus-faced buffer cuddling up to one superpower and now another, the proud, newly independent nations had no option but to sink or swim with the tide of neoliberalism.

So I have to express some amusement when I hear the charge that Mugabe has grossly mismanaged the economy – the acceptance of SAP, compulsory in Africa after 1990, implies by definition the ceding of monetary and fiscal policy to IMF planners and policy makers. Some, the truly corrupt African governments such as Abache’s in Nigeria saw SAP for what it was, an open invitation to corruption, and couldn’t flog off their country’s resources quick enough. Just witness today the legacy of allowing Shell, private army included, free reign in the Delta region. Most African leaders however were dragged through the process kicking and screaming and IMF country reports of the 90’s are punctuated everywhere with the doleful refrain that ‘privitisations’, ‘deregulations’, ‘liberalisations’, and various other abominations’ weren’t taking place nearly as fast as they should. Many compromise formations such as semi-state parastatals began to emerge during the decade such as the Botswana government’s 50/50 partnership with DeBeers. But the pressures on African leaders to conform shouldn’t be underestimated when a more pliant political rival can have his party’s chances of election multiplied tenfold by a timely injection of Western capital. Play the game or pretend to play the game; this is the ignominious liminal state that Western policy has reduced African leaders to.

Where is Africa’s chair on the UN Security Council? The only continent without one and something they have been asking for at every General Assembly for the past 15 years. If it were given presumably then the West would be forced to look upon a strong unified continent instead of the media’s depiction of a patchwork of failed states marshalled by corrupt tyrants. For example, Transparency International’s ‘Corruption Perception Index’ has followed the World Bank who first pioneered this sort of thing by listing as one of its criteria for ‘efficiency’; ‘length of time taken to set up a business’, as though a long waiting period implied a proportional level of graft when in reality its more often a government’s covert resistance to a SAP-inspired prescription to plunder. And even if he’s working for an Abache-type regime maybe his demands to be ‘greased’ are because his real wages shrunk in half because of an austerity plan and he needs to buy anti-retrovirals for his brother or a false passport for his sister who can claim asylum in Europe by telling their immigration control how nasty and despotic her president is since the Geneva Convention makes no allowance for economic war crimes. Which is just as well since we’d all be in the dock.

Now that Mugabe has shown himself to be definitively not ‘our kind of guy’, i.e someone who would gladly squander his own nation’s resources for the promise of peace and security and the benefit of our engorged portfolios; a prostituted international media, with the exception of Al Jazeera English, commands the entire world to scream in abhorrence. And we do scream of course, loudly and impetulantly, because we are by and large decent people who are more than willing to do what we can ‘to help the poor’ and when we are told by our national broadcasters of a ‘corrupt dictator’, of his greedy, self-serving ‘network of cronies’ and how they have turned the former ‘breadbasket of Africa’ into an economic backwater with floods of refugees and ‘millions more on the brink of starvation’ our Pavlovian indignation reaches a peak of frenzy. Almost as an afterthought, the Weimerian hyperinflation figure is then typically inserted as an almost comical aside. Bread now costs $12 billion, only last month a teachers annual salary! I know we are meant to find this a vaguely amusing confirmation of Mugabe’s incompetence and despotism. Worse still, and this is perhaps the last straw for our now salivating triggers is that the sacred institute of democracy itself has been defiled with the intimidation and brutalisation of supporters of the rival political party, the Movement for Democratic Change led by that poor beleagured black man, Morgan Tsvangirai. Such is the general level of ignorance that this deplorably facile propaganda is digested unquestionably. Reports nowadays don’t even bother mentioning the resettlements let alone ‘invasions’ of white-owned farms.

In the mid-90’s, at the height of the hardships induced by IMF-imposed Structural Adjustment, land resettlements began sporadically by disgruntled Zimbabweans tired of Mugabe’s perceived procrastinations over land reform. Yet to the West, Mugabe had still to maintain the impression that he is committed to Structural Adjustment else the IMF’s support for balance of payments will be withdrawn and the economy effectively destroyed. To his supporters in the War Veterans Association (WVA) who fought alongside him for land rights the question of compensation payments now became a matter of urgency.

Greg Elich describes some of the effects of SAP in Zimbabwe in 1994;

“The rise in food prices was seen as a major problem by 64 percent of respondents, while many indicated that they were forced to reduce their food intake. ESAP resulted in mass layoffs and crippled the job market so that many were unable to find any employment at all. In the communal areas, the rise in fertilizer prices meant that subsistence farmers were no longer able to fertilize their land, resulting in lower yields. ESAP also mandated the elimination of price controls, allowing those shop owners in communal area who were free of competition to mark prices up dramatically.”

Tsvangirai, at this time a trade union leader was stirring popular dissatisfaction, erroneously blaming the government for high taxes when in fact such measures were being dictated by the IMF. It is of course equally probable that he had no idea at the time that SAP required almost complete IMF macro- and micro-management of the economy. Meanwhile, Mugabe responded to the increasingly vociferous WVA by providing a once-off settlement and it was this unbudgeted outlay which caused the first crash of the Zimbabwean dollar. It also signalled to international investors that the agitators for land reform within ZANU-PF were the real power in Zimbabwe and that their stated goal of occupying those lands, forcibly if necessary and without providing the compensation demanded by white farmers would become a reality. It was thus that the Zimbabwean dollar depreciated tenfold between 97 and 01. If speculators could make this assessment then it stands to reason that Foreign Secretaries and development professionals also had the necessary intelligence from the ground to accurately gauge the mood of the country yet when the occasion arose in 98 to intervene and prevent the inevitable ‘forced resettlement’ they snorted with disbelief. With spiralling inflation and massively depleted reserves of foreign currency Zimbabwe had to rely on grudging support from the IMF and the occasional lifeline from China to fund fuel imports and provide vital agricultural inputs.

Mugabe was in a position to know more than anyone that a crisis was looming. Late in 1997, Claire Short, the UK’s International Development Secretary, enflamed the situation even further by declaring that Britain did not regard itself as having ‘any special obligations to fund land reform’. In September of 1998 an International Donors Conference was convened in Harare to drum up support for a viable compensation package for white farmers. The time to act was clearly now. Speaking at the opening session Kofi Annan, then UN Secretary General said; “The equitable distribution of productive capital such as land is not only economically important but also essential to ensure peace and stability”. Reiterating these concerns President Mugabe said;

“We must move forward speedily and vigorously otherwise they will resettle themselves in a manner they deem appropriate. Such anarchy will not be helpful to anyone. We therefore trust that the governments efforts for orderly resettlement will receive the necessary donor support”.

Nobody believed him. All the donors’ perceptive faculties were programmed to make them believe that all they were listening to was the justifications of yet another corrupt African dictator’ on the graft. More white elephants they winked and yawned at themselves knowingly. And yet they didn’t know. And they still don’t know – anything. $2.2 billion, half the profits of Anglo-American’s African operations in that year, and one third of Nicky Oppenheimer’s thieved fortune was the sum agreed by all parties to be capable of solving once and for all the 100 yr Zimbabwean land question; $180,000 was eventually pledged.

The failure of the international community to engage constructively with the Zimbabwean government at this point, whilst totally predictable, has led directly to the violence, refugeeism and misery that we see today. It would moreover take a thousand Hagues a hundred years to do justice to the roll call of morally bankrupt cretins involved in this fiasco. It seemingly failed to dawn on any present that Mugabe’s warning that they would ‘resettle themselves’ might actually occur. Utterly unheard of. Could never happen. Yet it did, and it is evident that Mugabe, tired of jumping through hoops and attempting to satisfy the endless conditionalities required by the IMF and its brood of vampires, that he had finally dropped the facade of pretending to be ‘our kind of guy’ and lent what has now been called the ‘third chimurenga’ his tacit approval. By doing so he has ensured that his person will be villified by an utterly strumpeted Western media incapable and unwilling of providing anything but the most superficial of analyses. In the end, they are simply uncomprehending.

No-one will dispute that today MDC is under attack by Zanu-PF supporters. However, the fact of the matter is that the MDC was formed in September 1999 by prominent members of the white-dominated Commercial Farmers Union as a direct response to the land resettlements. Behind the MDC and mysteriously omitted by the wholly biased international press coverage who would like us to think that the MDC are some kind of people’s movement of native Zimbabweans agitating against an incompetent despot are in fact many prominent white Zimbabweans. David Coltart, the MDC shadow justice minister served in the Rhodesian police force and is a legal expert who, in power, will be poised to examine the constitutional status of the land resettlements with an obvious view to reversing them. In addition, Roy Bennett, the party treasurer, is a pugnacious white landowner who once attempted to throttle a Zimbabwean judge for calling his ancestors ‘thieves and murderers’ and Eddie Cross, who was the MDC’s newly confirmed Secretary of Economic Affairs in September 1999. made the following policy announcement clearly echoing the raison d’etre of SAP;

“We are going to fast track privatization. All fifty government parastatals will be privatized within a two-year frame, but we are going far beyond that. We are going to privatize many of the functions of government. We are going to privatize the Central Statistics Office. We are going to privatize virtually the entire school delivery system. And you know, we have looked at the numbers and we think we can get government employment down from about 300,000 at the present time to about 75,000 in five years.”

The unavoidable conclusion therefore among Zanu-PF party strategists is that the gains secured in land acquisition will be reversed if the MDC gains control and that they themselves will become the objects of a witch-hunt by the western press.

The land seizures, by any yardstick a sublime manifestation of natural justice, are in fact, technically ‘illegal’ and have been condemned in Washington and London, the financial backers of the MDC. On the American side, this support was secured by the signing into law by President Bush in December 2001 of the Zimbabwean Economic Recovery and Development Act (ZIDERA) The law instructed American officials in international financial institutions, to “oppose and vote against any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the government of Zimbabwe,” and to vote against any reduction or cancellation of “indebtedness owed by the government of Zimbabwe.” The law also authorized President Bush to fund “an independent and free press and electronic media in Zimbabwe”; in other words, a media network aimed at toppling the government.

Remembering Patrice Lumumba

The legacy of Patrice Lumumba is reflected in the pan-African aims, institutions and policies of the African Union and in the guiding ethos behind the adoption of the Ezulwini Consensus, which proposes a permanent African seat in a reformed United Nations Security Council. His ability to evoke so powerfully the extent of his people’s subjugation derived from a rare understanding of the inherent duplicity of the colonial discourse. As Jean Van Lierde put it;

“He was the only Congolese leader who rose above the ethnic difficulties and tribal preoccupations that destroyed all the other parties. Lumumba was the first real pan-African.”

Seeing clearly these machinations he gave little thrift to King Baudouin’s 1960 Independence Day assertion that the Congo had benefited “from the genius of Leopold”. He could have remained seated and held his tongue but instead stood up and systematically denounced the horrors of Belgian rule. Perhaps the Belgians had the measure of the man and knew because he was one of those rare souls who pined more than anything for justice for his people he would be thus unable to contain himself when Baudouin produced this litany of inflammatory nonsense extolling the virtues of the monstrous Leopold. If this were the case, then they achieved their ends superbly.

Leopold, for his part, halved the 20 million or so population of the Congo Free State in fifteen years. He was motivated not by ideology or necessity but pure greed – the rubber boom had his mind warped by the pursuit of profit. Worst still, he had the hypocrisy of cloaking it all under the veneer of philanthropy and done everything to halt the publication of British Consul, Roger Casement’s report on the atrocities. Leopold was a truly loathsome creature who made even the 1885 Berlin Conference’s pathetic entreaties on human rights look respectable. Lumumba, however, unrehearsed and constitutionally incapable of sustaining the colonial lie, responded on the spot;

“Fighters for independence, today victorious… I salute you in the name of the Congolese government. All of you, my friends who’ve unstintingly fought at our side. We have known mockery, insults… blows from morning to night… because we were negroes. We knew that the law was never the same… for whites and blacks. Who will forget the firing squads… the brutal arrests of those who refused to bow… to the regime of injustice, oppression and exploitation. Belgium has understood the price… that we attach to our liberty and dignity. She understands that we Congolese… will not be hostile. We just want to abolish the colonial system…that was the shame of the twentieth century.”

The Belgian ranks were horrified and Baudouin’s moustache twitched with rage. The following day every international newspaper and local radio station carried the headlines and talked of this “outrageous snub”. Africans themselves were stunned, unused to such defiance. Kasavubu, blinkered by his desire to see a resurgent Kikongo kingdom and offered empty assurances on such by the Belgian paymasters annulled Lumumba’s premiership after he had raised the pay of native Congolese in the armed ranks. Larry Devlin, CIA station chief, was given orders, apparently directly from Eisenhower to “get rid of this man”, who was not “our kind of guy” who would humbly play ball, unlike their protege Mobuto who was being groomed as a counterfoil to a deeply exaggerated and poorly understood Soviet “expansion”. Mobuto would eventually run the country into the ground, preparing more than anything the seeds for a Congolese Civil War in 1998-2003 that would claim 5 million lives, the largest death toll in a conflict since World War II. Devlin was given a tube of poisonous toothpaste which he could slip into Lumumba’s quarters but eventually decided for himself that to assassinate him would be disastrous for the US’s long term interests in the region.

Lumumba was eventually arrested when he tried to halt the Katangan secessionists with the help of a small thousand-strong Soviet troop detachment. Lumumba had declared repeatedly that he was not a communist and nothing in his programme for government suggested he had any intentions of developing a centrally planned economy. The UN had promised to dispatch forces but when they arrived they did nothing to interfere with the Katangan rebels. Katanga, a fifth of it’s land area, was the richest province in the Congo and this uprising was supported surreptitiously by the Belgians with the help of local governor Moise Chombe aka the ‘cash register’ or ‘the Jew’ as Gerard Soete described him, the Belgian police officer who was eventually charged with dismembering Lumumba and burning his remains in acid.

Earlier, when Lumumba had slipped under the net of the Belgian authorities and was making good his escape through the rough interior of the Congolese jungle he was compelled by tribal leaders through each village he passed to give them a briefing on the “real” independence struggle, as opposed to the propaganda now emanating from Kinshasha. Thousands gathered at each of these multiple stops and despite reports of Mobuto’s men closing in, Lumumba, with scant regard for his own personal safety would stay for hours at a time to impress upon all the need to abandon their divisive tribalism and adopt the pan-African philosophy of political engagement, which he had learnt from his mentor Joshua Nkrumah in Ghana.

In the end, it was this passion to engage his people, at all costs, which led to his capture. Mobuto’s forces caught up with him, took him to Katanga, and there, under the eye of the Belgian authorities, was brutally murdered. His family weren’t even given a body to mourn; they were told he had tried to escape and was slain by local villagers. A pathetic fabrication that fooled no-one, least of all Laurent Kabila, one of his most able deputies, who fled to South Kivu, just north of Katanga, where he would wait almost thirty years before having the satisfaction of deposing the autocratic stooge with a penchant for palace-building, Mobuto.

Patrice’s daughter, Julianna Lumumba, who remembers sitting quietly in his study while he penned letters to party supporters back in the late 50’s and who is now the Secretary-General of the African Union’s Chamber of Commerce has called his murder a “crime against humanity”. She is not bitter, however, and instead shares her father’s compassion and broader understanding. I will leave you finally the with the words of his friend Jean Van Lierde, a salutary reminder to that invidious dimension of colonial paternalism that found itself incapable and unwilling of absorbing the most passionate voices of dissent;

“The image he projected, by his use of vocabulary and his manner, frightened some people. He gave the impression that he was not a man who could be dominated. And a man who could not be dominated was dangerous.”

Land, the Media and Mugabe by Bob Seery



Anyone who hasn’t been living in a cave will come to expect a very predictable viewpoint expressed in the media on the subject of Robert Mugabe. We are told variously that he is a tyrant, a dictator or a monster and that his policies have turned Zimbabwe from breadbasket to basket case. All of this nonsense is unpalatable garbage of course but the wonder is that this myth has managed to sustain itself for so long. My only explanation is that when it comes to the punch most international journalists are willing to write anything that sells copy. Off hand, I can still remember what Mugabe said when there was accusations of tampering in the elections of 2002; “They talk to us of human rights, there was no human rights here, none at all, until the people of Zimbabwe began to fight”.

The thing is that most foreign press, academics and bureaucrats are institutionally hot-wired to accept the dominant explanatory narrative emanating from their respective political centres when it comes to issues of foreign policy, and especially when all their interests are entwined. All of it, the great tidal wave of negative emotion directed at that this single person has been deliberately engineered in response to the decision by the ZANU government to “allow” the War Veteran’s Association to reclaim thousands of hectares of prime arable land held almost exclusively by a white minority of the population. That is the issue in a nutshell. There are no other issues in Zimbabwe. Elections get rigged all the time in the developing world so we’re told and cholera is an ever-present, along with so many other deficits inherent in having a cash-strapped economy but when rich whites in Africa have their property forcibly seized by native blacks the heads of political mandarins everywhere begin spinning. Their world-view has been completely subverted and they are left with having to displace and falsify an essentially social phenomenon by licensing a campaign of personal demonisation.

What is at stake in any potentially seismic historical event if not ownership and control over the means by which that event will be depicted and portrayed to the world? Underneath the glossy fodder that we are fed daily; the spinball concoctions of the campaign trail, the market prices, the jobs figures, lies an uncomfortable reality attached to the ownership of the world’s resources. They are generally speaking not owned by indigenous peoples any more but held privately by corporate multinationals and wealthy investors. Just recently, for the first time since the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia there were more people living in urban centres than making a living plowing their own land. There are many factors at play of course; the attraction of ‘higher standards of living’ is often cited, but for the majority of those who have become integrated into the cities the choice was not theirs to make – land has been appropriated from them either indirectly through the withdrawal of supports and subsidies, through competition with cut-price mass produced agricultural goods or through forced government seizures. Many of these dispossessed are now filling the slums and shanty towns on the outskirts of the very cities whom their land now feeds.

What the fuss is about with Mugabe and it is still is a considerable one despite the Unity Government is the question of his “re-seizure” land policy being repeated elsewhere; in South Africa, Namibia, Kenya or Botswana, all areas with comparable distortions in land ownership between whites and blacks. This is not a racial issue but one to do with the inequitable concentration of land ownership. Further afield we may look to Latin America whose swing to the left has been largely abetted by populist leaders promising either redistributive land reform or the more equitable sharing of raw resources. Fifty years ago, when most African countries had yet to decolonise, many of it’s brightest and most promising students received scholarships to study in Joshua Nkomo’s newly liberated Ghana. The philosophy here was simple; in order to survive, the new post-colonial states had to transcend their tribal differences and embrace the principles of pan-Africanism. Robert Mugabe was one of the earliest graduates and when he returned home he was quickly elevated to the leadership of ZANU. It was to be oppressed and driven underground and Mugabe would spend ten years in Smith’s jails in Rhodesia, essentially risking his life so that his people could cast a vote.

Leaders within the African Union would find it laughable at the media’s distortion of Mugabe’s character were it not for their awareness they too could be next in line for this focused villification by the west. It is no accident that China has become the heaviest investor in the continent. When the largest delegation of heads of African state ever to assemble on a foreign soil were greeted with a red carpet reception by the Chinese authorities three years ago one of the first words of the host was to comment on their mutual history of colonisation. When has the EU or the US ever attempted to hold a gathering of this nature? They don’t extend them this courtesy for the simple reason that they’ve always viewed and treated them as vassals of their own extended sphere of influence. Moreover, the Chinese were welcome to do business as they don’t lay down the endless conditionalities to assistance; the “neo-colonial” forced privatisations of natural resources in exchange for aid, debt relief and balance of payments support; a system which only fosters the corruption we never tire of talking about.

Mugabe has been villified not because he doesn’t uphold human rights but because he’s actually stuck his head above the parapet and attempted to enforce them. This process of his demonisation has been facilitated by the cross-pollination of share ownership with boards of directors at Newscorp, Time Warner and the other half a dozen media conglomerates that determine what’s on the global menu on any given day and what we’ll all be gabbling about over breakfast being indistinguishable in aims and ambitions from the rest of the Fortune 500 who have key investments to protect in the developing world. Open markets and porous borders certainly, but above all the sanctity of private inward investment.

The premium value of land has now become apparent with the rush to biofuels and the need to produce more grain to feed the livestock that will have to supply the increasing protein demands of growing populations and GDPs in south east Asia, a need which makes apparent the level of urgency with which “Capital” attended the Zimbabwean decoupling from the Washington Consensus.

Darfur Intervention throttled by Israel/Palestine

Some have argued that Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court should be forced to halt indictment proceedings against Sudanese President al-Bashir by invoking Article 16 of the Rome Statute on the grounds that the country is at least ‘stable’ and that we don’t want it to turn into ‘another Somalia’.

Well, I don’t think there’s anything particularly stable about it and its already proven worse than Somalia. I mean how many independently commissioned reports and fact-finding missions are required to mobilise the international community into action?

Yes, intervention is necessary and the threat of a Chinese veto is not an insuperable obstacle; they did after all abstain along with the US on the vital Security Council Resolution 1593 that gave the ICC the original mandate to pursue their investigations. The 2010 downturn will significantly impact Chinese demand for imported crude and we should work to ensure that it is the Sudanese exports that are curtailed. Sudan’s allies in the Arab League, OPEC and the Organisation of Islamic’s Conference can be brought onside by a reinvigorated commitment to a two-state solution for Palestine – a return to the 1967 borders. There is no point any more in pretending that these two issues aren’t inextricably linked.

Now to the supposedly stable situation on the ground. We have a stalled peace process which has managed at least to produce a workable blueprint document – the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement – but there are at least a dozen rebel groups; mainly splinter factions from the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) who have refused to endorse it. This should not come as a surprise given that Bashir’s National Islamic Front have already proven themselves poor parties by backtracking on commitments given in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed with the South in 2005. This treaty, which ended the 21yr civil war with the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) provided for an equitable allocation of oil revenues along with a referendum on secession to be held in 2011. It is in reality a peace even more fragile than the non-existent one with the rebel factions in Darfur. Smugglers in the region openly confess to being in for a quick kill; once the referendum on secession is put to the vote “poof”, they say, they will go back to war.

It has to be remembered that the North and South have only once stopped fighting since Sudanese Independence in 1956 – a brief  eight year period between 1974 and 1983. The second civil war began as Chevron discovered oil in the South and the Arab North duly antagonised a rebellion by making Sharia law compulsory for the southern Christians and animists.

Even within the context of the limited value of the DPA which has now produced a more representative transitional authority’ under Milla Minawi’s SLA, the government in Khartoum has yet to withdraw funding and support for the Janjaweed’s militia and to provide the compensation stipulated in the agreement for the dispossessed Darfur populations. Much of the Janjaweed itself has now reportedly fractured and is turning its guns on one another, the Khartoum government, rebel groups in Chad and members of the hybrid AU/UN peacekeeping mission (UNAMID). According to some observers, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement reached between Khartoum and the mainly Christian SPLA in the South will be further jeopardised if the DPA is eventually agreed upon. The SPLA say that a revision of this will be a disaster since its settlements in the CPA refer to the entire region of Sudan; a situation they say will have to be reversed if the referendum on autonomy for the three regions of Darfur, as agreed in the DPA, goes ahead as projected in 2010. The SPLA have fought hard for representation in Khartoum and seem to be viewing the peace talks as a threat to their interests – but this shouldn’t be the case given the natural alliances, on material grounds alone, between themselves and the Darfur rebel coalition.

There is also the further potentially destabilising factor of the involvement of Sudan’s neighbours. The Eritrean and Chad governments have been reportedly funding the rebel groups in Darfur and through the Eastern Front rebel alliance while Sudan itself has been funding rebel groups in Chad. There are additionally reports of the Lords Resistance Army raiding village settlements in southern Sudan, an action which has seen the SPLA authorities there arming civilians and villagers; further compromising internal security. I myself know some people from the Fur region – a member of the JEM who was in peace talks in Tripoli taught me anthropology 15 yrs ago, and he in fact recently gave me a copy of the famous Black Book which was distributed in mosques back in 2000. Much of the resentment among the black Muslims arrives from their exclusion from major administrative posts – whilst this is a fact and is well documented in the Black Book – there is a popular notion that it has been done so on the grounds that their Islamism isn’t as ‘pure’ as that practised by the northern Sudanese in the ‘Arab belt’ – a dangerous half-truth that could further ethnicise the conflict.

The consolidation of Arab power in the north was actively pursued by Ghadafi back in the 80’s and he has been consistently vocal in support of a policy of non-intervention. The Arab League have always viewed the Sudanese government as one of the principal vanguards of the ‘Islamic Resurgence’ (to use Huntingdon’s phrase) – and see nothing but ‘double standards’ from the ICC on account of their inaction over Palestine. The fact that the Chinese have provided military and technical support in exchange for crude is tempered by the observation that the US has had oil companies in the south for decades. Though President Clinton imposed sanctions on Sudan in 1997 and declared them a state that ‘supports terrorism’ the Heuston-based Marathon Oil have only recently (2008) sold their stake in the Abyei southern block – to France’s Total. Having said this, the US are the only members of the Security Council not vacillating over an Article 16 suspension and therefore are the best chance for seeing objective justice being performed on behalf of the people of Darfur.

In brief then, there is nothing inherently stable about any of this. Ocampo should be allowed proceed with his brief and as Chief Prosecutor should be given the power to over-ride an attempted suspension of the issue of an arrest warrant. The ICC must surely be allowed and be seen to be an autonomous body capable of independent action, otherwise what’s its point. Besides which, the further the indictment is pushed the more leverage can be put on Khartoum to honour its commitments in the DPA; withdrawal of forces and compensation. Both the terms of the DPA and CPA should be revisited with suitable international moderation with a view to synchronising their respective referenda on secession. This should be enough to tempt the rebel splinter groups back into the process; those that don’t should be outlawed – at the end of the day they are being offered an autonomous government and a new constitution. Their security concerns can be addressed by a beefed up AU and UN mission. But none of this can be achieved without the co-operation of the Arab League, which is why, as always, we are drawn back to the Israeli/Palestine conflict and, who knows,perhaps Ocampo’s next brief will be the Israeli war cabinet of Olmert, Livni and Barak.

Somali Piracy – Solutions lie on land, not at sea

The current problem of piracy resides in the collapse of the Somali state back in 1991. Until such time as a legitimate government is installed, which importantly, has the support and confidence of the majority of the population, will we be in a position to see the territorial integrity of the Somali coastline restored.

Many of the prisoners languishing in the jails of coastal towns in Puntland are former fisherman charged with piracy. It is known that once the anarchy began and the Somali state was no longer capable of protecting the integrity of its coastline, foreign fishing vessels swooped in and drastically overfished their waters. Today’s catch is on average 10% of what it was a decade ago. Many of the pirates aren’t fisherman at all of course, just opportunists looking to make a quick buck and were it not for the lives being put at risk, I would generally be in favour of any measure that transferred largesse from foreign multinationals, into the African economy.

Be that as it may, in the meantime, corrective measures fall far short of what is required because the costs are just too prohibitive. Currently there are some 20 warships patrolling an area of 1.1 million sq. miles in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. It is estimated that it would take 140 warships to fully secure the Gulf of Aden and ten times that amount to secure transit in the Indian Ocean. So merchant ships are often left to provide their own security measures. Some use barbed wire and hose pipes and other “passive” deterrents, while others prefer more aggressive methods but at the end of the day the solution lies on land, not at sea.

The Transitional Federal Government which is now attempting to secure Mogadishu, has received the support of the UN, the EU and the US but it may be suffering from a crisis of legitimacy among the Somali people themselves.

There are three reasons for this as far as I can tell;

(1) The government was not elected by the people.

It received it’s mandate from the Djibouti peace process and these “elected” representatives are powerful figures drawn from the four “noble” clans. It thus appears to be perpetuating the very divisions that sowed so much discord in the aftermath of the civil war when the major warlords emerged. Recent internal wrangling has stemmed from clan divisions with each clan and sub-clan looking for more representation. This is a major distraction to the real problems at hand.

Even the Federal Charter of the TFG allows a minimum number of major posts to be allotted to members of either the Darod, Dir, Hawiye and Isaaq clans. This may appear to be a natural response to practical exigencies, reflective of the real politik of powerbrokers but it as yet remains essentially undemocratic. The mass of resignations that accompanied Pres. Yusuf Ahmed’s decision to sack his last Prime Minister seemed to be made entirely on the perception that their clan had somehow been shafted or sidelined in favour of another. There seems to be a fundamental class cleavage here with the (externally) engrafted political class, alienated from the conditions of ordinary Somalis on the ground.

(2) The invasion of Ethiopian troops at the end of 2006 to secure Mogadishu for the installment of the TFG, was a disaster.

This only reinforced the impression that the TFG were ‘stooges of Ethiopia’. Ethiopia is a secular government with roughly 70% Christian population, whereas Somalia is almost wholly Sunni Muslim. They were referred to as ‘Crusaders’ in some quarters. Even more, it has been well attested that the only brief period of law and order enjoyed by Somali’s in the past decade and a half, was the six month interval in which the Islamic Courts Union held authority in the southern half of the country.

According to the respected Somali human rights campaigner, Salia Ali Aden, women could leave their homes without fear of being raped or robbed, vast municipal clear up projects were begun, a viable corridor for humanitarian aid was set up and the dreaded warlords responsible for so much random violence, kidnappings and the pilfering of this aid were finally expelled from the cities. Whatever one’s personal prejudices towards Shari’a Law are, it appeared to be a solution that worked for the Somalis themselves and one in which they vested much confidence. It was organic and grew wholly naturally from the grassroots – a Somali solution to a Somali problem that didn’t require outside intervention.

The International Crisis Group, in an influential study, has shown that the decision by the CIA to financially support these same warlords (who were initially ran out of Mogadishu by the ICU), has had the unsurprising effect of further radicalising Islamists. Many of those from the ICU who may have joined the TFG/Djibouti process of inclusion, have instead opted to align themselves with either Al-Shabata or Hizbul Islam – the splinter groups that emerged from the ICU.

The decision by the US to designate the former a terrorist organisation, has been greeted with some satisfaction by its leaders – membership at once shot up and they are now the most powerful entity in the region. This brings us to the third factor which has undermined the TFG’s credibility;

(3) The radical groups that have emerged from the ICU, espouse the populist doctrine of Pan-Somalism.

The perception that the TFG is aligned with Ethiopia, whose troops stand accused of killing 7,000 civilians during the two year occupation, means that the Ogaden separatists and those who support them within Somalia are more likely to align themselves with Shabata. Siad Barre, in an attempt to dilute the power of the clans back in ’77, prosecuted a war with Ethiopia over the Ogaden region which is populated almost entirely by ethnic Somalis.

Lying in the east of Ethiopia, it is now called Somali Region and for the past two years due to the escalating activities of the Ogaden National Liberation Front, it has been subject to a virtual media blackout. Back in 2006, nine Chinese oil workers were executed by the ONLF and reporters from the New York Times who went to cover the story were arrested and imprisoned for five days.

Brutal reprisals to match a determined nationalist upsweling are undoubtedly taking place in this area, yet little or no reliable information is emerging. A recent submission to the US sub-committee on Foreign Affairs revealed an air of trepidation that their Ethiopian allies in the region may be roughing it too much here – further increasing the likelihood that both confrontations will eventually dovetail.

Until the Federal Government of Somalia secures legitimacy in the eyes of its people, piracy – the symptom of this malaise – will continue to express itself.