Battle over Africa’s oceanic treasures

Surprisingly, no shots have been fired by African navies against foreign vessels that illegally plunder fish and undersea mineral resources from Africa’s territorial waters. However, as fish stocks diminish and African peoples’ understanding of the value of sea minerals grows, aggressive responses will replace government’s lackadaisical attitudes.

SOMALIA, Mogadishu: In a photograph taken 16 March 2013 and release by the African Union-United Nations Information Support Team 18 March, traders wait to sell their fish inside Mogadishu's fish market in the Xamar Weyne district of the Somali capital. Every morning Mogadishu's fisherman bring their catch from the Indian Ocean ashore upon which it is quickly unloaded and transported to Xamar Weyne's lively and chaotic fish market where it is sold for consumption on the local market and increasingly, for export to other countries. Over the last two decades, instability on land has greatly restricted the development of the country's fishing industry, but now that Somalia is enjoying the longest period of sustained peace in over 20 years, there is large-scale potential and opportunity to harvest the bountiful waters off the Horn of Africa nation, which boasts the longest coastline in Africa. AU-UN IST PHOTO / STUART PRICE.

SOMALIA, Fishermen display their catch at a fish market in Mogadishu. Photo courtesy AMISOM/flickr

The scenario in which Mozambican, Namibian, Tanzanian and South African warships or boats from other African countries’ navies chase off or even fire upon an ever-growing fleet of foreign pirate ships is easy to imagine. No, the pirates are not the old-fashioned type that raid commercial vessels or kidnap ship crews or well-heeled guests on luxury yachts as is practiced off Somalia in East Africa and in the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa. Rather, the invading armada is comprised of industrial-capacity vessels whose aim is to loot Africa’s aquatic natural resources.

In so doing, Chinese fishing ships decimate fisheries, rendering African fishermen who for generations have depended on the waters for their livelihoods unemployed and made fish expensive or unavailable to local markets and their customers who rely on fish for basic nutrition. Aquatic life is just one resource that is being looted. Mineral resources have also drawn pirates.

As oceanic wealth is no longer taken for granted, conflict situations will arise

Diamonds, mineral nodes and anything that can be scooped up from the seafloor using a modern high-powered vacuum hose is drawn into the hulls of the pirate ships. The vessels, for the most part, sail from Asian nations, particularly China, whose people’s insatiable appetites for fish and mineral resources must be met by means fair or foul in the view of their national leaders. For some reason, such aggression has thus far not been identified by African governments for what it is, an act of war. If Asian cargo planes descended onto African land and crews scooped up gold and diamonds directly (rather than using surrogates to do this as they now do) then perhaps the scope of such criminality would be better appreciated. African countries’ lack of urgency to protect the natural resources within their territorial waters is founded in hard-to-shake attitudes that the oceans are immense, their contents limitless and anyone who takes the trouble of venturing out into the waves can keep what is found. Read more

Underlying conflicts continue to unsettle Madagascar – An interview with Adrien M. Ratsimbaharison

After Madagascar was diplomatically isolated following a 2009 coup d’état, normalcy seemed to have been restored to the island with the installation in 2014 of the government of Hery Rajaonarimampianina, which was elected in 2013 with 54% of the vote. However, the underlying causes for political instability remain, including long-held rivalries between major political leaders. IOA discussed these issues with Adrien M. Ratsimbaharison, Professor of Political Science at Benedict College in the US, author of the ‘The Failure of the United Nations Development Programs for Africa’ and long-time commentator on his native Madgascar.

Destruction in Antananarivo following Madagascar’s 2009 coup. Photo courtesy fanalana_azy/Flickr

Destruction in Antananarivo following Madagascar’s 2009 coup. Photo courtesy fanalana_azy/Flickr

Professor Ratsimbaharison, has political stability returned to the island?

The short answer to this question is that political stability has not returned to the island, despite the signing of the Roadmap for Ending the Crisis document in September 2011, the holding of the presidential and legislative elections in 2013, and the inauguration of the new president, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, in January 2014.

The long answer is that the Roadmap for Ending the Crisis signed by the major political parties in September 2011, which allowed the holding of the presidential and legislative elections in 2013, did not resolve the conflicts between the major political actors, particularly between former President Marc Ravalomanana and former Mayor Andry Rajoelina. In this sense, I totally agree with the assessment of the International Crisis Group (ICG) that the Roadmap and the ensuing elections were just a “cosmetic end to the crisis,” given the fact that the conflicts between these major political actors were deliberately swept under the rug through this agreement. What the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the international community tried to achieve through the Roadmap was just the establishment of a so-called “consensual transition,” and the holding of the presidential and legislative elections. That was what was celebrated as being the “return to a constitutional order” after the so-called ‘coup d’état’ in 2009. As a result, the conflicts and their underlying causes remain untouched. In fact, the same underlying causes are now starting to create new instability and most likely, a new crisis sooner or later. Read more

North Korea’s African inroads come to an end

A UN panel calling Namibia out on breaking international sanctions by making military deals with Asia’s pariah state, North Korea, has wider implications. African countries can no longer blindly do what they want and laugh at international law without consequences.

The bilateral advantages were too tantalising for African countries to resist or for North Korea to withstand exploiting. Condemned in the international community as a rogue nation with a horrid human rights record, North Korea is subject to ever more strenuous sanctions aimed at hindering its nuclear and military ambitions.

A nationalist dance performance during North Korea’s annual Arirang Mass Games in Pyongyang. Photo courtesy (Stephan)/Flickr

A nationalist dance performance during North Korea’s annual Arirang Mass Games in Pyongyang. Photo courtesy (Stephan)/Flickr

The country is ruled by tyrannical Kim Jong-un, who may or may not be insane but is sufficiently ruthless to execute family members. Since 2006, the UN Security Council (UNSC) has passed five major resolutions aimed at countering North Korea’s nuclear programme. North Korea will go to any lengths to get what it wants, in this case, nuclear weapons and intercontinental missile delivery systems for those bombs that will ensure that Pyongyang gets whatever it wants in perpetuity. A foreign policy based on lies, insults, bellicosity and threats has unnerved the country’s immediate neighbours and disturbed the superpowers of the People’s Republic of China and the US.

Four African countries in particular, Ethiopia, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, have leaderships that seem not to care about the prospect of a nuclear-armed North Korea, nor about the millions of North Koreans oppressed by the Kim military regime. The fulsome descriptions of a “strong friendship between development partners,” that African heads of state and diplomats use to praise their relations with Pyongyang refer to a relationship with a regime, not a silent and powerless Korean people. Read more

The Democratic Republic of Congo is the latest African country whose fate is tied to a leader’s ambitions

Central Africa’s democracies are endangered by leaders whose desire to retain power is subverting democratic governance. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is now on the brink of dictatorship as its leader seeks to perpetuate a family dynasty.

Judging by the unfolding game plan of President Joseph Kabila, the DRC is to be led by a family dynasty. National elections scheduled for 2016 to allow the DRC’s people to vote for Kabila’s replacement will most certainly not take place. DRC observers and international diplomats had concluded this by mid-year, and in July the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) conceded this as well. Kabila wants MONUSCO out of the country to allow him a free hand at seizing power through unconstitutional means. The UN suspects a plot, and is staying put.

The DRC’s President Joseph Kabila during an address to the UN General Assembly in New York. Photo courtesy MONUSCO/Flickr

The DRC’s President Joseph Kabila during an address to the UN General Assembly in New York. Photo courtesy MONUSCO/Flickr

Kabila’s original plan was to deny seeking to manipulate the national constitution to allow him to stay in power beyond his constitutionally-allowable two terms, while working behind the scenes to enact such changes. Under intense international scrutiny, Kabila has been unable to pull this off, and has enacted Plan B: stall any government succession by not setting a date for new elections. The flaw in the DRC system is that the president is the one who sets election dates, rather than having a timetable firmly written into the constitution. Kabila has been able to work this shortcoming to his advantage.Meanwhile, the contraction of civil liberties to curtail political opposition campaigning and the arrest of political opposition figures has become so flagrant that the former colonial power of the Congo, Belgium, as well as France and the US, are considering sanctions against Kabila and his government co-conspirators against democracy.  Read more

Environmental destruction and poor resource governance are provoking a second conflict in Nigeria – an interview with Udeme Akpan

Nigeria has been battling Islamic militants in its North-East since 2009, yet the government now also faces the prospect of a second internal conflict – for very different reasons. Militant groups in the Niger Delta have sabotaged pipelines and launched attacks on vital oil infrastructure in protest after a reigniting of long-standing grievances held by local communities. In an interview extracted from the July 2016 edition of IOA’s Africa Conflict Monitor (ACM), Udeme Akpan, a Nigeria-based IOA consultant and journalist and author with over 20 years of experience examining the dynamics of Nigeria’s energy sector, says that environmental devastation in the Niger Delta is “real and forms the basis of the conflict.”

Oil-sodden marshland in the Niger Delta. Photo courtesy Sosialistisk Ungdom (SU)/Flickr

Oil-sodden marshland in the Niger Delta. Photo courtesy Sosialistisk Ungdom (SU)/Flickr

Since early 2016, violence has flared up in the Niger Delta, the heartland of Nigeria’s oil production. The attacks have been conducted by a range of militia groups, foremost among them the Nigerian Delta Avengers. The group has declared that its goal is to bring Nigeria’s oil industry to a complete halt. Can you tell us more about these militant groups, and the reasons behind their attacks?

The Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) is made up of militants who were formerly a part of insurgent movements in the early 2000s. These militants had in the past demonstrated their commitment to aggressively protecting the interests of the region, lashing out against foreign-owned oil facilities and government paramilitary groups. But the thinking in some quarters is that members of the NDA also have a personal interest in renewing conflict, as they, in one way or another, benefited from concessions made by the previous administration led by then President Goodluck Jonathan. Read more

US media distorts Africa in chase for TV ratings

Ignorance and bigotry towards Africa are on display during the US presidential election cycle from both candidates and the broadcast media that reports their antics. Africans who watch the coverage on international news stations like CNN confront a TV image at odds with history and current reality.

Africans have reason to be concerned about the 2016 US presidential election, which features as one of its two principal candidates, a demagogue who would ban immigration and even visitation to the US by citizens of virtually every African country. If the ban on Muslim immigration to the US, that is the main platform of the Republican Party’s nominee, Donald Trump, is implemented, then no African nation will be spared having its citizens prohibited from entering the US. Thousands of Africans who regularly travel to the US on business, to train as soldiers with the US military, to study, to work, to act in movies and win Oscars, and even African leaders, would be blocked.


Mark Wiggett for IOA

This is obviously big news in Africa. However, the impact Trump’s immigration policies would have on Africa is a story that is nowhere told in the US media, be it the broadcast media or web-based news media. Africa can be forgiven if it feels that it is, once again, an overlooked continent. Africans also have reason to be angry at the lack of knowledge that news commentators and, similarly, politicians share on African current events, and not only African, but US history. Given the cultural, military and trade ties between the US and Africa, much is at stake for Africans when Americans go to the polls in November. And much is to be feared by Africans.

Africa depicted through the prism of American domestic politics

US network news programmes are aired in Africa via satellite TV and viewed by millions across the continent. CNN is a global broadcast news provider, on par with the UK’s BBC, and is probably viewed by more Africans than any other news channel, again via satellite TV reception. CNN’s news editorial policy is to refer to Libya as a ‘failed state’. Read more