a repost: AFRICOM’s Oily Skin: Why the U.S. Still Wants Its Military In Africa

Article posted on Atlanta Blackstar (click link for original)


With the recent United Nations Security Council’s adoption of resolution 2349 condemning terrorism and encouraging military cooperation in Africa’s Lake Chad Basin, an international spotlight will once again be cast upon the contested region near Nigeria’s northeast border. While much attention was justifiably given to the kidnapping of 276 school girls by the militant group Boko Haram in 2014, little attention has been paid to the increasing role of AFRICOM— a U.S.-led military entity officially labeled the United States Africa Command— and its claims in its professed mission to protect and stabilize the region.

Even less attention has been given to why AFRICOM was created in the first place. The organization touts its “core mission of assisting African states and regional organizations to strengthen their defense capabilities better enables Africans to address their security threats and reduces threats to U.S. interests.” However, given Africans did not ask for their assistance — AFRICOM was forced to set up headquarters in Germany in 2008 because they were not welcome on the continent — some question both its presence and its very existence as an organization.

“There are those of us who believe there are ulterior motives and other agendas in play,” says Mark P. Fancher, an attorney and blogger who has followed AFRICOM since its inception.

Fancher acknowledges the eight-year Boko Haram insurgency against the Nigerian government and how most of the news coming out of the region is concentrated on acts of terrorism and human rights atrocities. But, he clarifies the incomplete nature of such accounts.

“The other thing that has been going on there for about 30 years is exploration for oil,” says Fancher, explaining “they believe they’re getting closer to being able to actually extract deposits and make it a new source of oil.”

As far back as 2008, years before the international community had even heard of the imposed moniker Boko Haram, the militant group had successfully run Chinese oil interests out of the potentially lucrative region. Recent estimates from the Nigerian government and related industry experts have hovered around two billion barrels of oil with roughly 14.65 trillion standard cubic feet of natural gas in the Chad Basin.

Within the past few months, Fancher says, AFRICOM “has taken it upon itself to assemble representatives for military forces in the region, along with a few European military forces, to chart out a plan for stabilizing the region specifically with respect to Boko Haram.” Well prior to the recent UN Security Council Resolution, he notes, AFRICOM had targeted April for “plotting out a military offensive against Boko Haram.”

It’s certainly not the first time AFRICOM has plotted such an offensive on African soil. In fact, its rapid expansion on the continent can mostly be credited to the dramatic events of October 2011 as Western air strikes lit up the skies of the Libyan capital, Tripoli. The Obama-backed NATO coalition had targeted longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi — considered for years to be the most powerful man in Africa, given his former chairmanship of the African Union and the stable, oil-rich nation he led for 42 years — for regime change ostensibly to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 and “an immediate ceasefire” in Libya, including an end to “current attacks against civilians.”

However, ulterior Western motives were apparent from the beginning of the mission. One that moved from protecting “citizens” to facilitating “regime change” to break Gaddafi’s powerful influence on the continent. As founder, primary funder and a former chair of the African Union who’d committed billions to establishing the continent’s independence from foreign manipulation—he worked toward a continental gold standard and the creation of an African Union Development Bank—Gaddafi posed a serious roadblock to foreign business interests in Africa and was a vocal critic at times of western intervention in Africa. Consistently, AFRICOM’s 2008 establishment of its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, rather than in Africa itself was largely a result of the Libyan leader’s cash and investment offerings to African nations who rejected U.S. requests for continental military bases. With Gaddafi eliminated, AFRICOM now has a presence by way of projects, operations or engagements in almost every country on the continent.

Such motives are far from unprecedented. The Berlin Conference, initiated in 1884, systematized Europe’s imperial desires and ushered in an era of brutal colonial activity that squashed existing forms of African self-governance for land grabs and the extraction of the continent’s natural resources. Such repression was abetted by numerous Western oil companies in the 20th century which, despite mid-century independence movements, still maintained a considerable influence over Africa’s economic and political activities. Fast forward to 2008 and one could question how much has changed given the creation of AFRICOM amidst a steadily increasing Chinese footprint on the continent and an American desire to reestablish itself through the threat or use of military might. The 2011 NATO coalition that both stoked and capitalized upon Libyan civil unrest represents a 21st-century continuum of the imperial policies established in Berlin long ago.

The emergence of armed insurgents like Boko Haram, in Nigeria has recently over-shadowed its recognition as Africa’s most populous nation, its largest economy and biggest oil producer. Given ongoing corruption and the foreign extraction of much-needed resources and revenues, large parts of the country lack basic infrastructure while disparities in wealth and education are substantial. Such inequity and instability provide a breeding ground for reaction and ideological fervor.

And once the terror spreads, what better way to capitalize upon such instability then to wage conflicts by proxy where Western business interests can appear as if their hands are clean while extracting oil revenues to the tune of billions? Or, as Dan Glazebrook stated in his May 2012 article for Counterpunch, “The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan showed the West that wars in which their own citizens get killed are not popular. … AFRICOM is designed to ensure that in the coming colonial wars against Africa, it will be Africans who do the fighting and dying, not Westerners.”

But in person or by proxy, “AFRICOM has no business in Africa in the first place,” Fancher says. “To the extent there are military needs, Africa has its own armies and those are the military forces most appropriate for addressing the security concerns within their own countries.”

What they don’t need, Fancher continues, is “the United States jumping into these situations.”

But, he adds, “the U.S. does it because it has its own agenda.”

a repost- Long Overdue: Rikers Island, America’s Most Notorious Prison, Is Closing at Last

Article posted on Atlanta Blackstar (click link for original)


By David Love

Rikers Island is closing. Although it will not happen overnight and will likely take years to accomplish, the behemoth complex of jails known for its brutality, torture and other human rights abuses will be shut down. Over the years, Rikers has earned the reputation as America’s most notorious prison.

In a March 31 press conference with New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the 10-year plan to close Rikers.

“New York City has always been better than Rikers Island. I am proud to chart a course for our city that lives up to this reality,” de Blasio said. “Our success in reducing crime and reforming our criminal justice system has paved a path off Rikers Island and toward community-based facilities capable of meeting our criminal justice goals.”

Noting that Rikers Island is part of a national problem, the mayor said that, while the mass-incarceration problem did not begin in New York, it will end there. Since the facility opened in 1932, this marks the first time the city has made closing Rikers its official policy.

Mayor de Blasio tweeted about the significance of this decision:

Although the jail has been around for 85 years, Rikers Island has an older history fittingly steeped in the enslavement of Black people. As Vice reported, the Rikers (the Anglicized version of Rycken) were a wealthy Dutch family that settled the island in the 1660s at a time when New York was still known as New Amsterdam. From 1815 to 1838, the family patriarch, Richard Riker, oversaw the city’s criminal court. Part of his responsibilities included deeming free Black children, women and men as “fugitive slaves,” allowing for their kidnapping to the South by bounty hunters without a trial. Riker received kickbacks from slave catchers, and he and two slave-catching police officers were known as the “Kidnapping Club” by abolitionists.

Sadly, this sordid history of Rikers Island has continued to plague the facility, which is the second-largest in America after Los Angeles County Jail. The conglomeration of 10 jails sitting on the 400-acre island houses mostly men (93 percent), but also women and juveniles. Throughout a given year, 77,000 people go through Rikers, with 10,000 inmates detained on a given day. In the 1980s and 1990s, the jail population was double current numbers. The prison population is 89 percent Black and Latino (56 percent African-American and 33 percent Latino) — from New York’s low-income communities — and only 7.5 percent white.

Eighty-five percent of Rikers inmates have not been convicted of a crime and are pretrial detainees, with the rest serving short sentences of a year or less, as The New York Times reports. Around 40 percent of detainees have a mental illness, according to the Urban Institute.

The decision to close Rikers comes in the midst of longstanding problems of violence, brutality and inhumane living conditions for those detained there. For example, mentally ill detainees have died in custody. Rikers continues to place inmates in solitary confinement, an internationally condemned form of physical and psychological torture, with Black and Latino inmates subjected to the punishment at a much higher rate than whites.

According to a report from the federal monitor overseeing Rikers since 2015, the abuse continues, with guards using excessive force at an “alarming rate.” For example, it is common for correction officers to place inmates in chokeholds, punch them in the head while handcuffed, slam them into walls and douse them with pepper spray. The jails also are an environmental disaster, with regular flooding, crumbling infrastructure with dilapidated facilities, a putrid landfill and pollution-belching power plant, and overheated conditions that have given Rikers the nickname “The Oven,” as Grist reported. With no central air conditioning in the summer months, some prisoners have suffered from cardiovascular conditions, heat stroke, rashes and asthma, and some have attempted suicide. One homeless veteran was baked to death in his hot cell that overheated to at least 100 degrees from faulty equipment.

Things came to a head with the story of Kalief Browder, who was arrested and sent to Rikers at age 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack. He was never charged. While there, in a story revealed by The New Yorker, Browder endured three years of torture at Rikers, including beatings by guards from his first day behind bars, and starvation. After his release, Browder committed suicide in June 2015 at age 22, using an air conditioning cord to hang himself. This was a consequence of depression from the abuse he had suffered. The Marshall Project interviewed his mother, Venida Browder, for a video series called We Are Witnesses.

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James wants to rename the island after Browder, given the planned shuttering of the infamous jail.

Although de Blasio has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to improving conditions at Rikers, the time has come to phase out America’s most notorious jail. A report unveiled by the Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform maps out a plan to shut down the jail. Condemning the facility as a “19th-century solution to a 21st-century problem,” the commission calls for reducing the jail population by half to 5,000 and placing the remaining inmates in new facilities around the city.

The report makes a number of other recommendations, including reforming arrests by diverting tens of thousands of low-level offenders from traditional prosecution and reducing the number of people in pretrial detention so that people do not have to wait months or years in jail for the resolution of their cases.

“Finally, we recommend an approach to punishment that prioritizes meaningful sentences and a judicious use of incarceration for all types of cases,” the report said.

Rikers Island has been used as a torture chamber for Black people for far too long. Its end will come, though not soon enough.