Africa’s cultural treasures must be returned and full reparation made
One of the most important aspects of continued foreign intervention in Africa concerns the plundering of cultural artefacts by the imperialist countries not least by Britain and its major cultural institutions. This has been highlighted recently by the so-called Magdala 1868 exhibition which opened at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London in April 2018. Magdala 1868 is an exhibition of important cultural treasures including a crown, a royal wedding dress and various religious items plundered from the then Ethiopian capital of Magdala (Maqdala) during an invasion by British troops in 1868.
The Ethiopian government, which in 2005 managed to secure the return of the plundered Axum obelisk from Italy, has demanded the return of all the items plundered in 1868 not only from the Victoria and Albert Museum but also from other museums and archives throughout Britain, including the British Library, the British Museum, the National Archives of Scotland, and several university libraries. In 2007, the government filed a formal restitution to have the treasures returned to the rightful owners. Other Ethiopian organisations have also demanded their return, including the Association for the Return of the Maqdala Ethiopian Treasures which has been particularly active in Britain. Since 1868 several items stolen from Magdala have been returned, including some religious items. However, the V&A persists in holding onto plundered items and has prominently displayed them even before the current exhibition was launched. Hundreds of other items remain stored in other British museums, included many religious icons, illuminated manuscripts and even human remains. Some items are still held by the British monarch in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle.
The current exhibition has been staged in association of the Ethiopian government and the Ethiopian community in Britain. However, Ethiopia’s Director of Cultural Heritage Inventory, Grading and Inspection Desalegn Abebaw explained that ‘Showing the looted Mek’dela artefacts to the public is positive; We hope it is going to create pressure on them (the V&A) that will help us in our efforts to return the artefacts to where they belong. It’s good to show these artefacts to the public rather than locking them somewhere since the exposure is going to help us to return them.’ Elizabeth Wolde Giorgis, director of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University added ‘They took someone else’s possession; it is criminal and they should apologize for it. No European artefacts have been looted and taken to Africa, so why should it be OK for a British museum to have looted African treasures and not apologize for it?’
However, V&A Director Tristram Hunt, refuses to provide any apology or to return the plundered treasures to their rightful owners. Expressing a view that has long been held by the plunderers of stolen goods in Britain and elsewhere he suggested that ‘the speediest way, if Ethiopia wanted to have these items on display, is a long-term loan… that would be the easiest way to manage it.’ Such colonialist logic must be condemned in the strongest terms. Those who stole the treasures or acquired them, to use the language employed by the plunderers, have no rights to make any decisions about the treasures of Ethiopia or those of other parts of Africa that must also be returned and full reparation made.
The role of the United Nations in Libya’s suffering
On 9 February, the Panel of Experts of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Committee concerning Libya provided its interim report to this committee. The UN has not published the interim report nor made public its 11 recommendations but the Committee declared it would be following up 8 of these which related to its own work. This committee is currently chaired by Olof Skoog, Sweden’s representative to the UN and its resolutions are drafted by the UK mission to the UN, which is the current penholder for this committee.
However, on 7 February, Reuters news agency published an article in which it claimed to have seen the interim report. It stated that the Panel of Experts had reported to the committee that “most armed groups involved in human smuggling and trafficking in Libya have links to the country’s official security institutions”. The report went on to say that these groups “have specialized in illegal smuggling activities, notably human smuggling and trafficking”. The report further stated that Eritrean migrants reported being “arrested by the Special Deterrence Force (SDF), which is an armed group affiliated with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord’s Ministry of Interior” and then being handed over to various smuggling rings.
In a mid-January briefing to the UNSC, Ghassan Salamé, Special Representative and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), stated that the “spectre of violence” is present in many parts of the country and that the “the fabric of Libyan society is frayed”. As well as the widespread violence which still racks the country, 7 years after NATO’s barbaric attack, the UNSC was informed that there are also summary executions and that “the displacement crisis in Libya is one of huge complexities”.
The EU AU summit – the EU must end its interference in Africa
On 30 November, the two day EU-AU summit came to a close in Abidjan, the capital of Côte D’Ivoire. Commentators noted the neo-colonial overtones in the choice of venue, given that the current president of that country, Alassane Ouattara, was installed by French paratroopers in 2010 while the previous president, Laurent Gbagbo, is languishing in a prison cell in the Netherlands, another African victim awaiting his turn in the hands of the so-called International Criminal Court.
This reality was confirmed by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, who, on his way to Abidjan, delivered another one of his anti-African outbursts during his stop-over in Burkina Faso. Asked by Burkinabe students, whom he was addressing at the University of Ouagadougou, why there were more French soldiers in Africa than African students in France, Macron declared that the students should applaud the French soldiers as they were allegedly all over Africa in order to protect Africans. Turning to the dire situation in Libya, which was also raised by the students, Macron declared that the problem in Libya is that Africans are making other African slaves and added that France intended to fight this crime. Not once did he mention the central role that France played in NATO’s destruction of Libya in 2011 and the elevation to power of those forces they had gathered together to wage war on that country. It was this act of aggression that has unleashed instability, insecurity and mass human suffering not only in Libya but also in the wider Sahel region.
The summit issued a final declaration which addressed a number of areas, including economic growth, investment, peace, security, migration and governance. With regard to peace and security, the declaration claimed that Africa and the EU “….have common security threats…… particularly the growing terrorist threats and trans-boundary criminal activities” and that ‘peace and security’ would be at the heart of the EU-AU partnership. It further stated that the summit had agreed on “……. the principle of developing as soon as possible a framework document, which will put our partnership on peace and security on a more solid and structured basis”. In this way the EU aims to consolidate and intensify its already extensive and destructive military interference in Africa, which brings people in Africa neither peace nor security.
A key initiative unveiled by the EU at the summit was its External Investment Plan (EIP) whose declared aim is to “…. crowd in private investors, where viable business proposals meet social needs”. This plan envisages the establishment of a European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD) with an allocation of €4.1 billion from the European Commission and a further €44 billion of private capital from within the EU to fund investment in Africa. Basing itself on the current neo-liberal dogma that economic development is dependent on attracting foreign direct investment, the EU declares that the EIP is its contribution to current global commitments to “mobilise private resources and to apply innovative financing models” to address the issues of social and economic development in Africa. It is clear from this that under the guise of addressing economic underdevelopment in Africa, the EU is seeking out investment opportunities for its monopolies to further plunder Africa and deepen its enslaving economic ties with the African continent.
In light of the current chaos in Libya, including the selling of people as slaves, which has resulted from NATO’s aggression against that country in 2011, the summit also issued a joint statement on the “Migrant Situation in Libya”. Reflecting the remarks made by Macron in Ouagadougou, the statement makes no mention of NATO’s aggression against Libya. Instead, it presents the issue as ‘a struggle against criminal human traffickers’. It further “…..welcomed ongoing efforts of the Presidential Council and the Government of National Accord of Libya in undertaking appropriate measures to address such incidents”. This statement turns reality on its head, given the fact that it is precisely the various militias which NATO cobbled together in 2011 and which they have installed in power in that country who are responsible not only for the ongoing racist outrages but have been involved in such outrages since 2011. Finally the statement declares that a “lasting resolution of the issue of African migrants is closely linked to addressing the root causes of the phenomenon and requires a political solution to the persistent crisis in Libya”. With this statement, the EU signals its intention to use the chaos and insecurity its previous interventions in Libya and the wider Sahel have caused as justification for further intervention.
The EU-AU summit is a means for the European monopolies to further their interests in Africa. The EU must end its criminal interference in Africa which is bringing one disaster after a next for the people of that continent.
21st Century Missionaries – trans-national NGOs in Africa
“Another important aspect of these trans-national NGOs’ activities is the way in which they have become more overtly integrated into the mechanisms which the big powers use to interfere in Africa”.
In addition to the institutional trans-national NGOs, there has also been the emergence of the so-called ‘charitable foundations’. These are trans-national NGOs which are set up by western millionaires and billionaires and include examples such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Clinton Foundation. The former which was set up by the founder of Microsoft and his wife had an income in 2010 of US$53 billion, while the latter had a 2010 income of US$143 million. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation claim that their activities are aimed to “to help the world’s poorest people lift themselves out of hunger and poverty and to save lives in developing countries”, while the Clinton Foundation claim that their activities are intended to “to transform lives and communities by improving global health, increasing opportunity for girls and women, reducing childhood obesity and preventable diseases, creating economic opportunity and growth, and helping communities address the effects of climate change”. With regard to Africa, the Gates Foundation states that it works closely with 10 African countries, including Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa, while supporting NGOs in other African countries such as Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania. They claim that their activity in Africa aims to “advance healthcare, improve agricultural production, strengthen financial services for the poor, and improve maternal and child health”, in other words to carry out the work of governments in Africa. The Clinton Foundation, for its part, states that it works in a number of African countries including Malawi, Rwanda and Tanzania with the aim of “strengthening health systems and expanding access to lifesaving treatments; providing farmers with tools they need to increase their incomes and strengthen their communities; and addressing climate change by making forests and cities more sustainable”.
The neo-colonial nature of these trans-national NGOs activities in Africa has, not surprisingly, prompted various African governments to address this problem. Some countries, like Eritrea, have banned them outright from operating in their country, while others such as Kenya and Ethiopia have imposed requirements on such organisations to register in order to operate. In addition, Ethiopia has limited the proportion of their income that local NGOs can receive from foreign sources. In a circular issued in 2016, Kenya’s NGOs Co-ordination Board noted that trans-national NGOs in that country were openly violating Kenyan law by ignoring the need for non-Kenyan citizens to hold work permits; paying foreign staff 4 times more for the same job than what they paid Kenyan nationals with comparable skills and qualifications, as well as providing these foreign staff with additional benefits which they did not give to Kenyan staff; recruiting foreign ‘volunteers’ who received benefits in excess of the salaries paid to Kenyan staff and that some people were making a lifelong career out of being NGO expatriates in Kenya. This activity of the trans-national NGOs in Kenya reflects the essentially racist and colonialist nature of these organisations’ activities in Africa. It is long overdue to put a stop to this element of foreign intervention in Africa.
Land-grabbing’ in Africa – a complex issue
The key picture which emerges from the FAO/IIED report is that data on land acquisitions in Africa is scarce and often of limited reliability and therefore conclusions drawn from the study need to be treated with some caution. Nevertheless a picture is emerging of large-scale land acquisitions in Africa. The key features of this process include a significant amount of land being affected with some 2.5 million hectares of land allocated in the five study countries between 2004 and 2009. In addition, there is a rise in land-based investment although large-scale claims involving land of over 1000 hectares remains a small proportion of total suitable land in any one country. Furthermore, most of the remaining suitable land is already under use or claim, often by local people, and pressure is growing on higher value lands, such as, those with irrigation potential or closer to markets. There also appears to be an increase in the size of single land acquisitions, for example, there was a 452,500 hectare biofuel project in Madagascar, a 150,000 hectare livestock project in Ethiopia and a 100,000 hectare irrigation project in Mali. Another emerging feature appeared to be the dominance of the private sector in such land deals as well as the dominance of foreign investors, although domestic investors also seemed to be playing a major role.
On the other hand, some African governments complain that the ‘land grabbing’ issue is being deliberately fanned by some ‘development charities’ and ‘non-governmental organisations (NGOs)’ in order to prevent African countries from developing economically, since they have a vested interest in maintaining poverty in Africa. For example in 2013, the Ethiopian government issued a briefing paper to address many of the claims around ‘land grabbing’. The briefing paper states that all development activities by the government are immediately classified as “human rights violations” by the advocacy groups which themselves have a vested interest in making a living by allegedly making a contribution to poverty alleviation measures through getting funding from various donors. It is interesting to note that the ‘aid budgets’ of some of these donor countries dwarf the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of many African countries. For example, the 2016 USAID budget was US$27.2 billion which compared with a 2016 GDP of US $25 billion for Uganda, $15 billion for Zimbabwe, and $13billion for Mozambique. Furthermore the paper states that these groups are opposed to development in countries like Ethiopia because this will eliminate their reason for being. A further concern is that some of these ‘development charities’ are in fact linked to the secret services of the donor countries which use them to gather intelligence. As a consequence, their activities have been banned in some African countries. The Ethiopian government argues that all its land deals must meet strict criteria. First, land cannot be sold outright but can only be leased, secondly only land that is sparsely populated can be used and all deals must include a 40/60 split, whereby at least 40% of the produce must be for the local market whereas 60% can be exported. In addition, local labour must be used in the project and the government encourages the transfer of technology in these processes. The African Union has established a framework for land acquisition which includes many of the caveats the Ethiopian government outlined in its briefing paper.
Independent researchers note that NGOs like the Oakland Institute do act in the way suggested by the Ethiopian government. However, although they agree that the approach of the NGOs would prevent any form of national development since any attempt to build an agro-processing industry would be discredited as ‘land grabbing’, they, nevertheless, argue that the situation with regard to such land deals in Ethiopia itself remains complex. They point out that land policy in Ethiopia is based on a zoning system. Land which is zoned for peasant use is subject to redistribution according to the needs of each peasant household. However, land which is not included in the peasant use zone is available for land deals and accounts suggest that large tracts are taken out of peasant-use sector and allocated to foreign investors and that in some areas peasant farmers are losing their best lands to this. They further argue that only leasing land to foreign investors and not selling it is not particularly significant, since in many African countries land sales do take place as a lease of 25 or 50 years for foreign investors and 90 years for housing. In any event, they caution against seeing the Ethiopian approach as a model for the rest of Africa. They argue instead that in evaluating such land deals, it is necessary to have a clear picture of what is meant by development by outlining the nature of this development, the class alliances it serves and the nature of the relations with foreign capital.
Land grabbing is undoubtedly one of the most hotly contested issues in the geopolitics of Africa, partly because comparatively large sections of Africa’s population are still closely connected to agricultural production whether on a subsistence basis or on a larger commercial scale so any threat to the people’s means of lively hood has serious potential implications. The case of ZanuPF inspired land reclamation from big land owners with titles dating back to the colonial era in Zimbabwe is often cited in the western press from the perspective that this has been a failed project but the fact that there are conflicting interests at play who have definite agendas in pushing one or other narrative is clear to see.
Foreign military bases on the rise in Africa
France, basing itself on its long and sordid colonial history in Africa, is the next in line with regard to foreign military bases in Africa. It currently has bases in Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti and Gabon and troops deployed in Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger.
China, which has extensive economic interests in Africa, recently opened its first overseas base in Djibouti. Britain has two bases, one in Kenya and the other in Sierra Leone, while Japan has a base in Djibouti, Turkey has one in Somaliland and the United Arab Emirates has one in Eritrea and another in Somalia.
The quickening pace of the establishment of foreign military bases in Africa is a sign of the growing contention between these foreign powers for control of the continent and it represents a mortal danger to Africa and her people. The demand must be raised for the complete withdrawal of all foreign militaries from the African continent and for the end to foreign military intervention in Africa.
G20 Summit proposals reflect new scramble for control of Africa’s human and material resources
The government of Germany (which currently chairs the G20) hosted a special conference on Africa held in June this year and attended by nine African heads of state and representatives of the IMF, World Bank and African Development Bank as well as government ministers and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. As in the past the focus was establishing a so-called ‘partnership’ between the world’s twenty most powerful countries and the African continent. The outcome of the conference was the ‘Compact with Africa’ which, amongst other things, aims at encouraging the further penetration of Africa by the big financial institutions. This, it is claimed, is the best way to provide employment for Africans and thereby stem the constant flow of migrants forced to seek a livelihood in Europe, many of whom have ended up in Germany. Several African countries, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Rwanda and Ghana have agreed to be part of this compact. In addition, Cote d’Ivoire, Tunisia and Ghana have also agreed to seek further collaboration with Germany leading to more enslaving ‘aid,’ in exchange for even greater penetration of these economies by Germany’s financial institutions. Regarding Cote d’Ivoire, there is some evidence that Germany is seeking to increase its activities in Francophone Africa in contention with France.
These proposals have been adopted by the G20 as part of a more general ‘partnership’ with Africa which requires individual agreements between individual G20 members and African countries. The British government has also been eager to take advantage of the opportunity in the context of developing what it refers to as ‘Global Britain.’ Speaking at the summit Prime Minister Theresa May made an announcement of what was referred to as an ‘ambitious package of support to create new wealth in Africa,’ but which appears to be a new way of removing wealth from Africa for the benefit of the big financial institutions. According to May, one of the key elements will be the so-called London Centre for Global Disaster Protection, a means to provide insurance to cover various disasters in Africa such as drought and famine, which will allegedly decrease the need for what is referred to as ‘humanitarian aid.’ The government therefore plans to assist in building the insurance sector in African and other exploited countries as well as other measures to ‘help Africa integrate into global financial markets.’ This at a time when capital is flowing out of the African continent at a massive rate both by legal and illicit means. According to reports illicit capital flows may be as much as $60 billion each year. It is also clear that the British government’s new initiative is designed not only to increase the impoverishment of Africa but far from allowing Africa to develop its own independent financial institutions is also designed to create ‘more opportunities for London to become the finance hub for Africa.’ In short these and other measures aim to further the penetration of the big financial institutions in Africa and thereby maintain the foreign economic domination of the continent by Britain and the other big powers.
These efforts by both Germany and Britain, as well as other G20 countries including India, have little to do with concern for the millions of impoverished Africans but can be seen in part as a response to the influence of China in Africa, now said to have over 10,000 companies active in the continent employing several million Africans, handling over 12 percent of the continent’s industrial production, over 50 percent of all internationally contracted construction. China-Africa trade was valued at $300 billion last year. China’s economic and military rivals such as Britain have thus been compelled to intensify their efforts in Africa whether under the guise of combatting terrorism or alleged humanitarian concern. There can therefore be no illusions about the British government’s intentions nor the aims of other G20 countries. The demand must be for Britain and the other big powers to get out of Africa.