Sunday, April 10, 2011

Standing There on Freedom's Shore, Part 2

There is much more than meets the eye to the unrest throughout North and West Africa. In Part 1 I pointed out how the Sahara Desert can be viewed as a barrier separating different places, but also as a sea of sand connecting places for those travelers properly equipped.

South of the Sahara is the Sahel, a region so-named because its appearance is that of a coast or shore next to the sea of sand that is the Sahara.

Across this sea of sand and its coast flow contraband.

From an excerpt from a 1988 Ivory Coast Country Study dealing with Ghana, Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali:

Relations with Burkina Faso, a traditional source of agricultural labor, were historically cordial, but they degenerated sharply in the wake of the coup that brought Thomas Sankara to power in August 1983. Sankara soon made common cause with the Rawlings government in Ghana, further raising suspicions in Abidjan. Following Libyan deliveries of military equipment to Burkina Faso, Ivoirian authorities investigated alleged arms trafficking between Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire.

More recently, according to information taken from 2001 US government sources and found in an article entitled Arms Transfers and Trafficking In Africa, Burkina Faso continues to be a major transshipment point for contraband, including arms; this had not been stopped:

In particular, there has been no UN action against countries like Burkina Faso, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda; all are major transshipment points for arms shipments to west, central, and eastern Africa. The UN Register of Conventional Arms, which has been in operation since 1993, has received data about weapons sales from 153 nations. However, the response by African states is among the lowest in the world.

Skipping down:

There are at least 8 million small arms in West Africa, according to some estimates, with more than half in the hands of insurgents and criminals. Criminal elements in Ghana alone reportedly possess some 40,000 small arms.

Notice the mention of Ghana. Another series that I began late last year begins to address Ghana; you may read Warrior King, Part 1, and I will hopefully get more parts posted soon. :) In that post, I pointed out how Ghana was becoming a major transshipment point for cocaine moving from South America to Europe, and for South Asian (Afghan) heroin moving west.

We now consider the beginning of Fighting the Illicit Trafficking of Small Arms, from May 13, 2005:

According to experts on illicit black markets, clandestine business has broken through the constraints once thought to be imposed by regulatory institutions and has spread throughout the international socio-economic environment, with a high level of technical and commercial sophistication. "From recreational drugs to counterfeit credit cards, from fake designer watches to stolen diamonds, it is no longer a case of the operation of this or that isolated black market, but rather the emergence of an international underground economy. That economy consists of a set of interrelated black markets supported by their own systems of information, their own sources of supply, their own distribution networks, and their own modes of financing."[1]

This trade encompasses illicit trafficking in small arms, the exchange of weapons for money, drugs and other commodities that crosses national borders and spans the globe. These arms are not only the weapons of choice in the majority of today's regional conflicts but also for many terrorists and terrorist groups operating around the world. This fact makes them central to the U.S. global war on terror, and shutting down the global network, or at least limiting its reach, would provide a tangible achievement in an otherwise nebulous fight.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) estimates that between 25 and 30 non-state groups spread throughout the world possess shoulder-fired missiles,[2] and small arms, in general, are ubiquitous. The proliferation of these weapons contributes to violence and lawlessness, which create conditions of chaos that allow terrorist networks to emerge and thrive.

Recall how I mentioned that cocaine flows east through Ghana to markets in Europe and elsewhere.

How do you think that cocaine is paid for?

Often, there is a certain degree of barter going on: cocaine for heroin and weapons.

Consequently, when the Obama Administration says that most of the firearms used in what we could call Mexico's civil war against drug cartels are from the United States, we know that is not true. Is the Obama Administration that incompetent? Or, is it lying? Perhaps with an agenda to disarm Americans? Either option is very believable; we know they're not telling us the truth.

Another key aspect to this conundrum is the interaction of these illegal activities with terrorism.

Back in the Cold War, the Soviet Union supported terrorist organizations that destabilized the West. When peace broke out, terrorist organizations had to find other sources of support.

Narcotics was a prime candidate. Narcotraffickers and terrorists have the same enemy - the government. Terrorist and guerrilla groups could provide security for narcotraffickers in exchange for money.

The relationships evolved.

Now, it is hard to separate illegal terrorist activities from other kinds of illegal activities, such as trafficking in arms needed to commit terrorist acts, and selling drugs to fund the acts.

In the case of Islamic terrorists, the drugs serve a two-fold purpose. Not only do they finance the terrorist activities, but they destroy infidel societies from within - a recipe direct from Allah. :)

Consequently, any counterterrorism program that does not address trafficking in arms, drugs and other contraband (including human-trafficking) is just a charade.

But, an important charade it is, because if you start following the money, it finds its way to important government officials, who get corrupted.

As Sibel Edmonds said regarding her case in Former FBI Translator Sibel Edmonds Calls Current 9/11 Investigation Inadequate by Jim Hogue, May 7, 2004:

JH: Here's a question that you might be able to answer: What is al-Qaeda?

SE: This is a very interesting and complex question. When you think of al-Qaeda, you are not thinking of al-Qaeda in terms of one particular country, or one particular organization. You are looking at this massive movement that stretches to tens and tens of countries. And it involves a lot of sub-organizations and sub-sub-organizations and branches and it's extremely complicated. So to just narrow it down and say al-Qaeda and the Saudis, or to say it's what they had at the camp in Afghanistan, is extremely misleading. And we don't hear the extent of the penetration that this organization and the sub-organizations have throughout the world, throughout their networks and throughout their various activities. It's extremely sophisticated. And then you involve a significant amount of money into this equation. Then things start getting a lot of overlap -- money laundering, and drugs and terrorist activities and their support networks converging in several points. That's what I'm trying to convey without being too specific. And this money travels. And you start trying to go to the root of it and it's getting into somebody's political campaign, and somebody's lobbying. And people don't want to be traced back to this money.

So, we have established fairly direct connections between terrorists and various kinds of organized crime, but, since organized crime has government officials - even in high levels of the US government - on its payroll, the connection between terrorists and government officials, though less direct, is no less real.

We now consider events in the African nation of Niger, just less than twice the size of Texas and located in the Saharan and sub-Saharan regions along the banks of the Niger River, from which it derives its name. From NIGER: New Touareg rebel group speaks out, dated May 17, 2007:

DAKAR/NIAMEY, 17 May 2007 (IRIN) - A string of armed attacks in the north of Niger this year were provoked by feelings of neglect among people in the region and throughout Niger, the spokesperson for a new Touareg-led rebel group that claims responsibility for the violence told IRIN on Wednesday.

"The movement was created because nothing has been done by the government," Moktar Roman, spokesperson for the Mouvement des Nigeriens pour la Justice (MNJ) said. "There is no work, no schools, not even drinking water in all Niger. It's terrible, it's a genocide, and the government is corrupt, taking money from people and leaving them to live in poverty," he said.

That is the direction the US is heading in.

The group is fighting for development in what the United Nations considers the poorest, least developed country in the world, Roman said. "It is not just a Touareg movement," he said.

However, the government of Niger has refused to even call the fighters rebels, accusing them instead of being bandits trafficking drugs, guns and people in a vast region that is difficult to police.

To reinforce its claim, government officials cite a seizure of drugs and weapons the army made in the north in April. They also cite data from the UN Development Programme which shows that five times more cannabis was seized in Niger in 2006 than in 2004.

Roman denies that his group is involved in drug or arms trafficking. "There are traffickers and they work with the government and the presidency. The Sahara is being turned into a transit route by them, we don't have the means to do it," he said.

He and other members of the group also strongly deny that their movement has connections to Islamic terrorist organizations which some analysts believe are establishing strongholds in the Sahara's isolated corners.

It seems quite evident that certain Islamic militants are establishing themselves in the Sahara, and have even begun to move beyond it.

Notice that Roman points out that the Sahara is not so much a barrier as a transit route. Notice also that, while the government blames the rebels for narcotics trafficking, the rebels blame the government.

Regardless, it doesn't take long until both sides have cut their deals with the devil.

Skipping down:

More fire power

The group has asked for talks with the government but the Nigerien Prime Minister Hama Amadou and senior defence officials have repeatedly ruled that out.

"Rebellion?... We cannot speak of political demands. For us the attacks signify 'leave us to prosper from our illicit trafficking of drugs and arms,'" Mohamed Ben Omar, minister of communication said last month on Nigerien national television.

However the Nigerien government this week authorised 30 billion CFA (US$60 million) for ramped-up army operations in the north. The investment is 9 billion CFA ($18 million) more than what the government and donors spent on food security for Nigeriens in 2006.

"Security today is one of our main priorities," Salifou Madou Kelzou, minister for institutional relations, told Niger's parliament on Wednesday.

The rebellion among the Touareg is also a problem for neighboring Mali. From there, refugees fleeing fighting between Malian troops and Touareg rebels have gone into Burkina Faso (see BURKINA FASO-MALI: Hundreds of Touareg refugees flee escalating violence, May 29, 2008).

Finally, last month there were elections in Niger. But, the backdrop had changed little. From Briefing: In Niger, soldiers out and civilians in, March 11, 2011:

There has yet to be any definitive resolution of the conflict pitting government troops against Touareg insurgents in the north. A rebellion that began in 1990 was fuelled by longstanding Touareg grievances, including a loss of grazing rights, and alleged discrimination by national and local authorities. Despite a ceasefire in 1995, the conflict flared up again in 2007. Accords brokered by Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi in 2009 have been rejected by Touareg factions in Niger and neighbouring Mali.

There is also mounting concern over the activities in Niger of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's (AQIM), which claimed responsibility for the abduction of two French nationals from a restaurant in Niamey in January, both subsequently killed in clashes between insurgents and French and Nigerien troops.

Hmmm... so Libya's Gaddafi, whom we want out of Libya, was part of the solution, attempting to broker a peace between the Touareg rebels and government forces in Niger.

And, in the absence of peace, not only is the area being used for moving contraband arms and drugs, but Al Qaeda is moving in.

Now, which side are we on again?

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