Veterans Day–America and Africa

Happy Veterans Day to my friends and readers in and around the Armed Services.

I always think on these occasions especially of my Uncle Gid and late Uncle Elvin who went off to fight in World War II as farm boys. And my grandfather’s older brothers who fought in Europe in World War I, through that eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, even though their father was a German immigrant (of more than 40 years in Kansas by then) who wondered whether his neighbors would let him continue to live in the area with the country at war.

At my AfriCommons Flickr account I have started a small gallery for photos of Kenyans serving in the U.S. military. The first image below is the only one that has a Creative Commons license for me to repost here. The second image is just for entertainment.

Cleaning Up for Veterans Day


SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (Nov. 13, 2011) Logistics Specialist 3rd Class Julius Okeyo, originally of Kenya, reaches for a small bit of debris during the community beach clean-up conducted by the crew of USS MILIUS (DDG 69). The Arleigh Burke-class Aegis guided missile destroyer was invited to the coastal city to participate in a weekend filled with community events including marching in the Veteran’s Day Parade, a hospital visit and ship tours for the public. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kim McLendon)

“Marines Support Shared Accord in South Africa”

Marines support Shared Accord in South Africa

Basil Mills, a wildlife conservation expert, shows Marines from 4th Law Enforcement Battalion various reptiles and wild life they might encounter in the South African wildness, where they will stay for the length of Exercise Shared Accord 13. Marines from 4th Law Enforcement Battalion supported Exercise Shared Accord 13, a multilateral training engagement with more than 700 servicemembers from the U.S. Marines, Army, Navy, and Air Force along with more than 3,000 South African National Defense Force counterparts in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, from July 24 – Aug. 7. (U.S. Army Africa photo)

Abramoff’s Africa and “Obama’s America”

We of a certain age, born in the early 60’s at the tail end of the baby boom, grew up in the Ford and Carter era and went to college in the Reagan years–young enough to avoid being fully confronted by Vietnam and Watergate and young enough, if we didn’t live in the Deep South at least, to take the basics of “civil rights” for “black” Americans somewhat for granted.

Jack Abramoff grew up in Beverly Hills.   He poured his energies into powerlifting and then went off to Brandeis and became a leader in the “conservative movement” youth insurgency through the College Republicans.   Barack Obama grew up primarily in Honolulu, went to an elite prep school and found his rebellion through embracing the “black” and to some extent “third world” sides of his identify.   He started at Occidental and then transferred to Columbia where he first discovered his taste for participation in politics in speaking to activist students in support of divestment in South Africa in opposition to apartheid.

For Abramoff, however, South Africa was about the Cold War and he played aggressively on the other side of the divestment issue as national College Republican chairman.   Access to expenses-paid junkets to South Africa, sponsored by the apartheid government, were a part of the “coinage of the realm” of the Abramoff political operation in maintaining loyalty and control within the national level of the College Republicans in the middle Reagan years.   Those of us who were College Republican state chairmen would be sent lots of papers and materials about the alleged communist nature of the African National Congress, Winnie Mandela and “necklacing”, and such–as well as supporting the Reagan Administration’s “constructive engagement” policy and opposing divestment.

This is not to say that supporting the “Contras” in Nicaragua wasn’t perhaps Jack’s first policy priority, along with supporting the the administration on El Salvador–or that there wasn’t greater romance with the Mujahadeen fighting an assertedly religious “good war” against the Soviets and their allies in Afghanistan–but South Africa was treated as an important issue–and the inter-related effort of backing Jonas Savimbi and UNITA in Angola had special resonance.

In 1986, Congress overrode Reagan’s veto to impose sanctions on the South African regime, rejecting the “constructive engagement” approach.  The late Rep. Howard Wolpe (D-Mich) as chair of the Africa Subcommittee of House Foreign Affairs led on the sanctions effort.

When the sanctions went into place against the South African government, Abramoff helped found the “nonpartisan” International Freedom Foundation (IFF), with headquarters in Washington and a Johannesburg office, to continue this fight, among others.  What most people didn’t know until groundbreaking investigative reporting by Newsday in 1995 was that the International Freedom Foundation was directly funded in substantial part by the South African regime to advance its cause in the “marketplace of ideas” through information operations.

A respectable Washington foundation, which drew into its web prominent Republican and conservative figures like Sen. Jesse Helms and other members of Congress, was actually a front organization bankrolled by South Africa’s last white rulers to prolong apartheid, a Newsday investigation has shown.

The International Freedom Foundation, founded in 1986 seemingly as a conservative think tank, was in fact part of an elaborate intelligence gathering operation, and was designed to be an instrument for “political warfare” against apartheid’s foes, according to former senior South African spy Craig Williamson. The South Africans spent up to $1.5 million a year through 1992 to underwrite “Operation Babushka,” as the IFF project was known.

The current South African National Defence Force officially confirmed that the IFF was its dummy operation.

The IFF issued publications and studies and hosted events featuring establishment heavyweight speakers including Henry Kissinger (IRI’s 2009 “Freedom Award” honoree and benefactor of blessing on V.P. nominee Sarah Palin in the 2008 presidential campaign of IRI Chairman McCain), and attracted a significant chunk of the leadership of the “movement conservative” wing of the GOP to its advisory boards, according to Newsday.

With the blow up of the Iran-Contra affair and Oliver North and others out of the White House, a private foundation with funding from a foreign government was a timely mechanism to influence public opinion, although the South African funding was obviously secret and presumably not known to most of the people who were involved (just as I didn’t know as a College Republican chairman earlier that Jack was getting public resources for the “CR” campaign for the “Contras” from Oliver North’s cronies in the government).

It was about this time that Obama first visited his father’s home country of Kenya according to Dreams from my Father.  Michael Ranneberger, Ambassador to Kenya from 2006-11, worked Angola/Namibia during the early Reagan years under Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker, known as the originator of “constructive engagement”. Meanwhile, Jack by 1988 was producing his first movie, Red Scorpion, secretly funded by the South African military according to sources in the Newsday story and filmed in South African-held Namibia.  Jack was visiting Savimbi and helping to promote him in Washington, along with his friend Grover Norquist.

By the time of the 1995 Newsday reporting, Nelson Mandela was the elected President of South Africa, and the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission under Bishop Desmond Tutu was exposing the stories of the apartheid regime in return for immunity.  Compared to the assassinations and paramilitary operations,

“[i]n South African government thinking, the IFF represented a far more subtle approach to defeating the anti-apartheid movement. Officials said the p!an was to get away from the traditional allies of Pretoria, the fringe right in the United States and Europe, “some of whom were to the right of Ghengis Khan,” said one senior intelligence official. Instead, they settled for a front staffed with mainstream conservatives who did not necessarily know who was pulling the strings.

Fast forward to the 21st Century: Former Congressman Wolpe served on the Board of the National Endowment for Democracy and headed the Africa Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center at the time I joined the International Republican Institute to head to Nairobi in 2007 and was subsequently appointed President Obama’s special representative for Africa’s Great Lakes Region.  Ambassador Johnnie Carson, a career Foreign Service Officer, worked the sanctions issue during a stint as a House staffer under Wolpe.  His subsequent Foreign Service career included an appointment as Ambassador to Kenya at the time of Mwai Kibaki’s election in 2002, as well as ambassadorships to Uganda and Zimbabwe.  Carson served as lead of the Africa division of the National Intelligence Council through the later G.W. Bush years, including during the controversial 2007 Kenyan election and then was appointed Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

Abramoff had set up as a lobbyist upon the takeover of the House of Representatives by the Republicans in 1994, the year before the Newsday story.  His work as “superlobbyist” for the Mississippi Choctaws and other Indian tribes in the casino business was the subject of a front page puff-piece in the New York Times and similarly in the Wall Street Journal while I was working in the defense industry here in Mississippi early in the George W. Bush administration.

By 2006, Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois, Jack was indicted and the Republicans lost their House majority briefly, in part because of the multi-layered scandal involving Jack’s lobbying relationships, especially with some of the House Republicans.  Obama went on to the White House and Jack went to jail for a while, although he is back writing and speaking for “limited government” as an antidote to the type of business relationships with elected officials he once enjoyed.

On balance, during those years before Obama briefly joined the Senate Foreign Relations Africa Subcommittee in 2007, it was Jack Abramoff rather than Barack Obama who was substantially and consequentially engaged in the politics of Africa and of America’s relationships in Africa.  Obama did oppose apartheid, while Abramoff advanced the cause of South Africa’s apartheid regime.

It is for this reason, among many others, that I am substantially “turned off” by the hyperventilating conspiracy theories about Obama reflected in Dinesh D’Souza’s campaign movie “Obama’s America” and the rest of the propaganda from the U.S.-based hard right about Obama and foreign policy.

[Expanded] Piracy Update: attacks spread south as South Africa signs pacts with Kenya, Tanzania and increase in West Africa, too–but what is the real impact on shipping?

“SADC should act strongly against pirates” from the Institute for Security Studies:

The lack of prey and the constant attention of the international fleet participating in Operation Atlanta​ are forcing pirates to move their operations south, towards areas outside the operational arena of the international fleet. Acts of piracy are also increasingly occurring further away from the mainland in international waters. This migration of pirate activity from Somalia is exerting pressure on coastal countries such as Tanzania to step up their efforts to protect vessels traversing their territorial waters.

 Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete commented during his recent visit to South Africa that Tanzania has experienced almost 30 pirate attacks and that the increasing number of incidents are starting to affect the economy of Tanzania and by extension the whole of Eastern Africa. The impact is the result of ships preferring not to visit the ports in Tanzania due to the risk of becoming the victims of pirate attacks.

South Africa, in an effort to curb piracy before it reaches its doorstep, has committed its maritime resources to the fight against pirates. The main motivation for this approach seems to be to fight pirates in the waters of its neighbours whilst ensuring that the South African shipping lanes remain safe and open for business.  Although the South African National Defence Force remains stoically silent about their strategic plan to get involved in the fight against piracy, the actions of the Government support the conceptual properties of a plan of this nature.

The agreements signed between South Africa and other Eastern African countries concerned about the impact of piracy on their economies contributes to this understanding. These countries are Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, the Seychelles, the Comoros, Madagascar and Reunion. . . .

In the meantime, “Piracy Rises Off of West Africa”  notes an AP item in the NY Times.  “‘Piracy soars’ off coast of Benin” reports the BBC.

Here is the link to the website of the “Save Our Seafarers” campaign,  “one of the biggest ever maritime industry groupings, comprising twenty five of the world’s biggest maritime organizations”:

Over 400 seafarers are being held hostage by armed gangs of Somali pirates, in appalling conditions, subject to physical and psychological abuse.

Their ships have been hijacked at sea and they are being held for ransoms of millions of dollars. The human cost to seafarers and their families is enormous.

This affects YOU. Piracy is beginning to strangle key supply routes. 90% of the world’s food, fuel, raw materials and manufactured goods is delivered by sea. Nearly half of the world’s seaborne oil supply passes through the pirate-infested parts of the western and northern Indian Ocean.

But the world’s politicians don’t seem to realise the severity of the crisis. World trade is under threat. Piracy costs the global economy $7-12bn a year. Yet even when caught red handed by naval forces, 80% of pirates are released to attack again.

You can help stop this hostage-taking and help restore the freedom of the seas. Please add your voice to our worldwide call for government action. More robust laws, stronger enforcement and firmer political resolve are needed to stop these pirates.

.  .  .  .

We understand the problems Somalia faces (the most prolific area for attacks) after 20 years of vicious civil war but we believe our innocent seafarers and the global economy have the right to protection.

All we ask is for Governments to take a firmer stance to help eradicate piracy.

We need committed action now and want governments around the globe to prioritise six key actions:

  • Reducing the effectiveness of the easily identifiable motherships
  • Authorising naval forces to hold pirates and deliver them for prosecution and punishment
  • Fully criminalising all acts of piracy and intent to commit piracy under national laws, in accordance with their mandatory duty to co-operate to suppress piracy under international conventions
  • Increasing naval assets available in the affected areas
  • Providing greater protection and support for seafarers
  • Tracing and criminalising the organisers and financiers behind the criminal networks

And, in case you missed it, here is an article from several weeks ago in Bloomberg/Business Week on the “arms race” against piracy.

UPDATE:  The Guardian today has a David Smith story “Piracy off west Africa increases sharply”:

Pirate attacks off the coast of west Africa have increased sharply, figures show, raising fears that the region could emulate Somalia as a menace to shipping.

Nigeria and Benin have reported 22 piracy incidents so far this year, including two in recent days, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said. Benin did not suffer any such attacks last year.

“I believe we are nearly at a crisis here, and if it’s a crisis there has to be action,” Rear Admiral Kenneth Norton, of the US Naval Forces Europe-Africa, told the Associated Press.

Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, which stretches along the coasts of a dozen countries from Guinea to Angola, has escalated from low-level armed robberies to hijackings, cargo thefts and large-scale robberies over the past eight months, according to the Denmark-based security firm Risk Intelligence.

Nigeria, Benin and nearby waters were this month listed in the same risk category as Somalia by the London-based insurers Lloyd’s Market Association. Neil Smith, its head of underwriting, said: “It’s always been a concern for the shipping industry. The model that’s taken root in Somalia might spread to other areas.”

But how much economic impact are Somali pirates actually having?  Well here, from the “Information Dissemination” blog are excepts from a speech by someone in the shipping business who obviously knows a lot about such things:

[I was sent a copy of remarks made by Stephen M. Carmel, Senior Vice President of Maersk Line, Limited given August 3rd, 2011 at the Commander Second Fleet Intelligence Symposium. After reading these remarks, I emailed Steve and publish them here with his permission.   These are his personal views and not those of Maersk Line Limited, nor those of the very diverse shipping industry.]

So, there are lots of things I worry about and lots of things that impose costs on our business that I’d rather not have to deal with; piracy is one, but not the only one and certainly not the worst. On any one of them if we can get someone to provide some relief, that’s great, including piracy. But piracy is not some existential threat to this country, or the maritime industry. That has, and is, my central massage when thinking about piracy. We must keep it in perspective. Piracy today is not remotely as bad as it was during the days of the Barbary Pirates to which it is usually and foolishly compared. Piracy then represented a true threat to the security of a young US. Today piracy has zero direct effect on our economy and I have yet to hear anyone articulate anything approaching a valid national interest that justifies the costs, and risks to US lives, of that mission beyond that it is the traditional role of the US to ensure stability in the global regime from which the US benefits in an overall way. In fact piracy has had no real impact on international trade.

Traffic through the Suez Canal is near record levels according to data from the Suez Canal Authority, global supply chains through that region remain intact and we are not diverting around Africa to avoid pirates, although when bunkers are cheap enough we’ll do it to avoid Suez Canal Tolls, since below about $300/Ton going around Africa is actually cheaper and now that we’re all slow steaming time is less of an issue. Charging around at 24 knots on our big containerships is largely a thing of the past, and sadly so are $300/ton bunkers.

It is interesting to note that the US government, in the form of the Maritime Administration is itself a source of incorrect information regarding the diversion bit, which is important as virtually every “cost of piracy” calculation relies heavily on some assumed diversion inefficiency to have any level of a “wow factor” attached to it. I can tell you that Maersk, the largest container company in the world, does not divert around Africa and I don’t know of any major carrier that does. Anyway – the Maritime Administration has on their web site a cost of piracy point paper which is again reliant on diversion for its major impact. They reference the cost of diverting a 300k ton tanker as one example, but the only problem there is of course a 300k ton tanker can’t get thru the Suez so would always go around the cape anyway so the real cost of diversion is zero, and we’ll come back to tankers in a minute. They also talk about the cost of diverting containerships. When pressed for data on how many containerships are actually making such a diversion they are silent – don’t even answer me. So, take that sort or argument with a bulker load of salt and even the US government itself contributes to the voluminous amount of misleading to patently false information floating around about that.

Unfortunately for us freight rates on the Asia / Europe trade route – the only international route directly impacted by piracy, are not where we’d like them to be due to over capacity and weakening demand, so it is nonsense so say consumers are paying increased costs due to piracy. Shipping companies, in the face of weak fundamentals search for any mechanism to extract an extra nickel out of customers, including things like bunker adjustment factors and now piracy surcharges – which thanks to frothy news headlines shippers “understand”, but in the end it is the total cost of shipping a box that counts and that is not going up.

And in fact is down considerably from the peak in 2006 just before the financial collapse. More to the point, the routine peak-season surcharge that would normally be applied to that route this time of year has been delayed several times because peak season volumes are not materializing – an indicator of a bad Christmas retail season in the US and consequently very bad news for the US economy. So, from a system perspective, piracy is not an issue. That is an important point – we need to view the effects of piracy from a system level, but the highly emotional nature, the human drama associated with a specific piracy incident leads the general public to view it from a specific individual occurrence perspective and generalize that, rather than from a true system level perspective, a giant mismatch in perspective and effect. Piracy is a cost of business just like many other costs of business and business can manage it, just as they do the others. Piracy is a little different though because unlike emissions targets or bunker prices, piracy gets the general public excited, provides politicians a risk free platform for pontificating, all of which provides some of our industry an opportunity to burden shift rather than take responsible measures to protect their ships.