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Why they kill us

Africa is Palestine in slow motion

Beginning 8 October 2023, the world is witnessing perhaps the bloodiest carnage and destruction in recent history. The killing field is Palestine. The death toll in just two months – over 22,000 civilians, with over half of them children – is horrifying. Thanks to back-to-back coverage by Aljazeera, and the surge in social media usage, the world is watching this genocidal war live! Compared to other victims of Euro-American terror, especially in Africa, Palestine is somewhat luckier. They are connected to wealthier networks in terms of geographic, linguistic, and ethnic composition: Middle Eastern, Gulf, and Arabic speaking. This makes their plight more visible to the world. But this destruction, genocide, and pillage (of especially agricultural and residential land) that has happened in Palestine for the last 75 years has continued on the African continent. To this end, as an African observer, I worry (not less for Palestine but) for DRC, Sudan, Somalia, Central African Republic, South Sudan—and for the rest of Africa, whose violent and slow-motioned deaths are largely missing from the global public square. We are enemies of the Western world, not because of any crimes we have committed against them, but because we are born and are seated in lands that have been gifted with natural resources that the Western world does not have but so badly needs. Euro-America, the land of desire, whose sense of a good life translates into more goods, as historian, William Leech has noted, has built livelihoods around products made from raw materials that are inexistent in their lands. Having acquired them for decades cheaply or freely—through both open and structured violence— they are only ready to continue on the path of violence to acquire them. They would rather go to war than devalue their livelihoods.

I worry for DRC, for example, which is considered the heart of Africa. DRC has been ridden by death, destruction, genocides, and conflicts since the Belgian colonial emissary King Leopold II, set foot in these lands.  All this pain and suffering is because of its wealth, and the selfish interests of the western world. Writing in Cobalt Red: How the Blood of Congo Powers our Lives, Siddharth Kara notes, for example, that “the Katanga region in the southern corner of the Congo holds more reserves of cobalt than the rest of the planet combined.” Kara continues that this region “is brimming with other valuable minerals, including copper, iron, zinc, tin, nickel, manganese, germanium, tantalum, tungsten, gold, silver and lithium.” Indeed, because of this immense and diverse richness, “Foreign powers have penetrated every inch of this nation to extract its rich supplies of ivory, palm oil, diamonds, timber, rubber.” But to do this advantaging of themselves, they have had “to make slaves of its people,” because “few nations are blessed with more diverse abundance of resource riches than the Congo.” As one respondent would say to Kara reflecting on her failure to have children as a result of miscarriages, “Here, it is better not to be born.” Yes, because to be born is not only to suffer immensely but also to be killed”. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “As flies to wanton boys, so are Africans to Europe.”

The problem is that our friends in the Western world are not about to accept equitable distribution and sharing of these resources.  They want them all for themselves. They would rather have all of us dead than share with us equitably. So, they have turned us into their enemies. Accumulation by dispossession – dispossession which translates into genocide, ethnic cleansing, profiting from endless wars, and economic control through different tricks and agreements – defines Euro-America’s relationship with the richest parts of the world – especially Africa.

The Enemies

Writing in How Enemies are Made, my teacher, Prof. Günther Schlee has noted that enemies are not made out of some inherent, inexplicable hatred.  Claims of “mere hatred” understood as racial, ethnic or religious tend to obscure more stakes: economic reasons.  Schlee has noted that enemies are made in light of “competition for resources like water, territory, oil, political charges, or other advantages.”  So are other things such as identities, and how they keep shifting, reflecting the different economic possibilities.  It is a standard Marxist contention: decisions are made in the context of material conditions.  To this end, one has to understand that conflicts, wars, genocides, ethnic cleansing, racial hatred, and other modes of othering, identify and label the enemy as such in the context of resources.

This contention is a classic one:  It explains the slave trade, colonialism, racism, and genocides in the DRC, Namibia, and Kenya. It explains capitalism and those identified as enemies of capitalism. It explains what came to be called World Wars, and the Cold War.  So are the narratives that have followed these exploits: orientalism, colonial anthropology, the war against terrorism, bombing for democracy or human rights.  All these narratives have one thing in common: the enemy is identified, labelled (barbarian, oriental, terrorist, autocrat, pagan, Muslim, African), so as to justify the theft of their resources.  The language and practices of othering, and related discourses—even when they become cultures and internalised sensibilities—are often secondary to a more materialistic intention: access to resources.  The mode of access could be as direct such as openly violent theft, or could be convoluted and more elaborate. But at the extreme end of this loop is accumulation by dispossession.

Palestine, Middle East

Away from the stealing land through the 1948 Nakba, apartheid and endless settlements, like all previous settler colonialisms, independent analyst, Richard Medhurst has powerfully argued that the Israel war on Gaza is motivated by the selfish economic intentions to (a) establish the Ben Gurion Canal (taking the Suez Canal out of the market), and (b) granting access to Euro-America to gas and oil resources abundant in the Middle East —with Israel as the conduit.  While the world is endlessly distracted by attempts to frame this as a “religious war” between Jews and Muslims (an entirely misleading framing), or simply a fight against senseless violence from barbarians or otherwise framed as terrorism, the mostly accurate analysis is the competition over resources in the Middle East as Medhurst articulates. These resources range from land which is endlessly accumulated by dispossession, potential straits, oil and gas resources, which have been discovered as abundant off the Gazza coastline.  This analysis rides alongside the equally economic incentive for Euro-America’s weapons manufacturers to profit from endless war.  It should be curious that these material analyses have remained marginal to the entire narrative.  Yet indeed, the best way to understand the heartlessness and remorselessness of Western civilization— involved in endless wars, committing genocides, and endless plunder—is that theirs is an existential problem. They cannot exist without the resources from the rest of the world. Thus, we are their enemies because we sit atop these resources.

Consider Iran, Iraq, and Syria, endlessly badmouthed as “the axis of evil.” All they have in common is that they are rich in mineral resources and are also proud sovereign states: The Euro-American problem with Iran is a problem over oil and this is extensively captured in Steven Kinzer’s book, All the Shah’s Men as America UK specifically enjoyed unchecked exploitation of Iranian oil since its discovery till 1979.  Commenting on the abundance of Iranian oil, and its availability to the UK, their then prime minister, Winston Churchill called it “a prize from fairyland beyond our wildest dreams,” and then UK Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, “was not exaggerating when he observed that without oil from Iran, there would be “no hope of our being able to achieve the standard of living at which we are aiming in Great Britain,” Steven Kinzer has written.  To this end, Iran remains an enemy of the Western world because it successfully nationalised its oil industry after the 1979 revolution kicking out the Americans and British who had killed Iranian nationalism in a coup against Prime Minister Mossadegh in 1953.

In the same breath, to understand the 2003 Iraq invasion well, one has to look at the absolute benefits. A flagship British company—one that was previously in charge of Iranian oil before the revolution—British Petroleum (BP) extracted £15b of oil after the invasion. Never mind that the 2003 invasion “unleashed a catastrophic humanitarian disaster with an estimated 655,000 Iraqis killed in the first three years of conflict or 2.5% of the population.”  How does one bomb a country back to the stone age, killing thousands in the process, all in the name of “democracy and human rights”? Straight from Iraq, Europe, and America went to Libya, and then continued to Syria.  But these have been the excuses to steal these countries’ natural resources. Consider for example, that Washington steals 80% of Syrian oil per day.

Africa is Palestine in slow motion

In Africa, both directly and through proxies—oftentimes working with African elites and political heads—the continent is in perpetual conflict and internecine fighting.  The two biggest countries on the continent, Sudan and the DRC, are now mired in internecine conflict (with the conflict in DRC taking genocidal dimensions). While it appears, and is often discussed, as Africans killing each other for their own reasons—oftentimes, alleged to be ethnic, religious or simply greed—this is actually indirect rule of the colonial nature, with African hands simply executing the dictates of their Euro-American masters. While we ought not to deny the agency of our leaders, it remains my contention that all these conflicts would never happen – or take these internecine dimensions – if it were not for the endless involvement of the Western world, hell-bent on freely and cheaply accessing the resources of these countries. It is old colonial history. Consider, for example: just eleven days—yes, eleven days—after independence in 1960, the Belgians played Tshombe against Lumumba to control what mattered most to them, Congolese resources.  Kara narrates how “they backed Moise Tshombe in announcing that Katanga Province had seceded from Congo… and Belgian troops expelled the Congolese Army from Katanga.” Belgian troops were working in a newly “independent country” throwing it asunder. To this day, Katanga, with over 70 per cent of Congolese resources, has not stopped fighting with the centre, and is presently a region teeming with different militias while foreign companies – outsourced colonial extractors – enjoy the country’s resources, feeding the world as Congolese die.

Check this out: in a recently concluded case in the UK, just four weeks after independence in 2011, officials of Glencore Plc. flew to South Sudan with US$800,000 cash to bribe their way into previously concluded oil contracts. Among other accusations to which they pleaded guilty, was seeking to stir up and benefit from violent conflict.  Over a period of 10 years, they handed over $29m in bribes, stirred up conflict – causing countless deaths and immense pain – and helped themselves to South Sudanese oil.  This is a practice in which Glencore Plc. and others continue to indulge across the continent, leaving behind death and destruction. This is our predicament.

I have woken up every single day to tune in to Aljazeera for updates on this recent season of Israel’s bombing of Palestine. But the more I watch the news, the carnage, death, and destruction, the more I worry for the African continent. Unlike Palestine, Africa is divided into small enclaves called nation-states that sadly see themselves as unique, individual, independent, and singularly contained.  Yet their enemy is one. While the Arab world fails to speak with one voice over the Palestine question, Africans are not even shy of directly fighting each other on behalf of the coloniser. (Not too long ago, Saudi Arabia was bombing Yemen on behalf of Euro-America). The world witnessed West African countries under ECOWAS threaten to invade Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso on behalf of France. Uganda continues to maintain a mercenary force for Euro-America in Somalia, DRC, Central African Republic, and South Sudan. All these deployments happen under different high-sounding pretexts – but it is competition for resources driving them.  On the whole, more disheartening for Africa is that the almost similar destruction and pain spotlighted in Palestine remains unreported or under-reported. Yet, as long as we still sit on these lands – these resource-rich lands – the deaths witnessed in Palestine daily will continue on the African continent – albeit quietly.

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