Month: May 2010

Is Germany sending Mercenaries to Somali?

Somali Warlord Hires German Mercenaries to Provide Security Services.

Politicians have reacted angrily to reports that a German firm has signed a deal with a Somali warlord to provide security services. Former members of German special forces and an elite police unit could soon be working as bodyguards and trainers in the lawless country.

For years, German politicians and pundits have been taking the moral high ground over the activities of the American private security contractor Blackwater, now known as Xe Services, in places such as Iraq. “The US government has allowed private security firms to develop into an omnipresent, uncontrollable apparatus in the war zones of this world,” wrote one German newspaper back in 2007.

That moral outrage is now looking distinctly shabby in the light of revelations that a German security company is planning to supply mercenaries to a Somali warlord. On Monday, Thomas Kaltegärtner, CEO of Asgaard German Security Group, confirmed a report by the German public broadcaster ARD that his company plans to send former German soldiers to Somalia.

In a December 2009 press release, Asgaard announced it had signed an “exclusive agreement on security services” with Abdinur Ahmed Darman. Darman, a Somali warlord who styles himself as the country’s president, does not recognize the legitimacy of the United Nations-backed transitional government of Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. The agreement, the company said, would cover “all necessary measures to reintroduce security and peace to Somalia.” The country has not had a functioning central government since 1991.

According to Kaltegärtner, himself a former Bundeswehr soldier, Asgaard employees would provide security for Darman and train police and military forces. He stressed, however, that combat operations were not planned. He said that over 100 mercenaries could be involved in operations. Although negotiations were not yet complete, it was possible that Asgaard employees would be operating in Somalia in the near future, Kaltegärtner told Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper. Kaltegärtner also told the newspaper that his company employed former members of the German army’s special forces, the KSK, and Germany’s elite GSG-9 police force.

Privatizing State Violence

Several German politicians have reacted angrily to the news that former soldiers could soon be in action on the Horn of Africa. “In my opinion, this is not acceptable,” Rainer Arnold, the defense expert of the center-left Social Democrats, told the Tuesday edition of the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper. He called for new legislation to “clearly limit” such operations, adding: “One cannot privatize state violence.”

Speaking to the same newspaper, Green Party politician Omid Nouripour accused the German government of not doing enough in the past to regulate private security firms. Paul Schäfer of the far-left Left Party and Rainer Stinner of the liberal Free Democratic Party, which governs in coalition with Merkel’s conservatives, also criticized the deal, with Schäfer talking of a “shadow foreign policy.”

Observers warn that German employees of the firm could be killed or targeted for kidnapping in Somalia. The Islamist Al-Shabab militia, which controls several regions of the country and parts of the capital Mogadishu, has allied itself with Al-Qaida, which wants Germany to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. The Islamist groups would be pleased to get their hands on German hostages, experts say.

“If a German firm were to train and support a Somali militia, that would certainly go against Germany’s interests,” said Annette Weber from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in remarks to ARD. The German Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry now want to look into what Asgaard is planning to do in Somalia, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The company itself tried to play down the significance of the operation. “We want to work closely together with the German government and will in no way act against its interests,” Asgaard said in a statement published on its website on Sunday. “There are currently no German citizens working on behalf of Asgaard in Somalia.” The company stressed that it would only begin its operations in Somalia once Darman “once again assumes control of state affairs with the approval of the UN.”

While Darman isn’t considered an Islamist — he is living in the United States and enjoys good contacts to U.S. congressmen — his chances of becoming the next president are slim. His support inside the country is limited, and officials in Germany have warned that he may not get the personnel support from Europe.
A German prosecutor Wednesday launched an investigation into whether deploying the mercenaries to Somalia would be in violation of a German law that bars the sale of services of German soldiers abroad. A Justice Ministry spokesman Wednesday said the deal could also violate an international arms embargo imposed on Somalia by the United Nations.
Meanwhile, security experts aren’t thrilled by the prospect of former German troops in a country like Somalia, where some 1.5 million people have been displaced by domestic fighting. The

For years, German politicians criticized the activities of U.S. private security contractor Blackwater, now Xe Services, in conflict zones such as Iraq. “The U.S. government has allowed private security firms to develop into an omnipresent, uncontrollable apparatus in the war zones of this world,” the left-leaning Die Tageszeitung newspaper wrote in 2007.

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Sub-Saharan Africa one of the world’s most religious places.

A new Pew Forum poll is out and finds that Sub-Sahara is one of the most religious regions of the world.

A continent that was more known for tribal shamans than for steeples and minarets has, in just 110 years, become one of the world’s most religiously devout regions, according to the Pew Forum.

A new massive survey, “Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa,” released Thursday, charts how a region that gave birth to the term “global South” is now in the driver’s seat in terms of world religious practice.

Twenty percent of the world’s Christians now live south of the Sahara Desert and 15 percent of the world’s Muslims live there. It’s one of the world’s most religious places, with at least 85 percent of the population in most countries saying religion is very important to them.

The picture was quite different in 1900, when animist religions comprised the bulk of the population while Muslims and Christians combined made up less than one-quarter.

Animists and traditional African religions have plummeted since then to about 13 percent of the population while conversion rates of Muslims and Christians have soared. Muslim adherents have gone from 11 million in 1900 to 234 million in 2010; Christians have gone from 7 million to 470 million.

Northern Africa is heavily Muslim and southern Africa is mostly Christian but where the two religions meet in a 4,000-mile belt from Somalia to Senegal has often turned violent, especially in Nigeria and Rwanda.

At least 45 percent of the Christians surveyed in Ghana, Zambia, Mozambique, Cameroon, Kenya, Uganda and Chad — which topped the list at 70 percent — consider Muslims to be violent.

Far smaller percentages of Muslims see Christians as violent — Djibouti had the largest percentage at 40 percent, followed by Kenya and Uganda in the low 30s.

From December 2008 to April 2009, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life conducted 25,000 interviews in more than 60 languages or dialects in 19 countries to ascertain the state of belief and practice among 820 million people in one of the world’s most religiously volatile regions.

They found a group of people with heavily pentecostal and messianic beliefs, in both religions. More than half of the Christians surveyed believe Jesus Christ will return to rule the Earth in their lifetimes. More than half of the Christians surveyed believe in the “prosperity gospel,” that God will give health and wealth to people if they have enough faith.

Similar attitudes were common among Africa’s Muslims: About one-third said they expect the restoration of the caliphate — worldwide Islamic rule — in their lifetimes.

More than half of the Muslims surveyed said society as a whole — not individual women — should decide on whether to wear the veil.

Although Muslims often get blamed for allowing female “circumcision,” which is the mutilating of female genitals, the practice is more common among Christians than Muslims in Uganda and Nigeria. However, the highest rates of female circumcision are in the majority Muslim countries of Mali and Djibouti.

And sizable minorities cling to aspects of African religion. More than half the people surveyed in Mali, Tanzania, Senegal and South Africa believed that sacrifices to spirits will protect them from harm. One-quarter of the Muslims and Christians surveyed in several countries said they believed in the power of charms or amulets to protect them.

With most of the populations adhering to one or the other religion, chances are, surveyors said, that neither religion will keep up its current growth rates as the pool of potential converts has shrunk. Neither religion seems to be converting members of the opposing religion in great numbers, they said, with the exception of Uganda where 32 percent of the respondents who were raised Muslim now say they are Christian.

Two wonderful coping religions expanding in a part of the world that’s being integrated into globalization at a stunning pace right now–no coincidence, that. One knows how to handle abundance, the other does not.

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Whats the status of Democracy in Africa?

Map comes from Freedom House 2010.  Legend is green for free, purple for unfree and yellow for partly free.

Subject is Cato Institute report on state of liberal democracy in Africa by Tony Leon.

Gist:  Economic reforms are what will drive the emergence of liberal democracies on the continent.  Why?  All liberal democracies are also market-oriented economies.

Recent positive trends include (from Daniel Posner and Daniel Young, UCLA):

  • Democracy is increasingly seen as only legit form of government in Africa (What?  No Beijing Consensus?)
  • Elections are now the norm, not the exception
  • Elections are now increasingly contested, often vigorously
  • Lifetime rule is disappearing (since 2000 we see longtime leaders gone in Malawi, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and ten others).
  • Of the 18 presidents who bumped up against two-term limits in recent years, not one went extra-constitutional, 9 stepped down, three tried and failed to change constitution, and the six who were successful all got their 3rd terms.

Still, the report concludes, “presidential power remains a key impediment to democratic deepening.”

Best short-term fix:  governments eliminate current restrictions on media.
No mention of China’s impact, but I come away from the piece more optimistic about Africa’s future.

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Asia’s demand triggers frontier integration in Africa via mining companies

Financial Times reports:

Six of the world’s biggest mining and steel companies have converged on an unprecedented scale on a mineral-rich corner of west Africa beset until recently by civil war.

West Africa Iron map

The companies plan to spend billions of dollars in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where some of the world’s richest deposits of iron ore, the raw ingredient of steel, are found.

The groups are Vale, the Brazilian iron ore miner, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, the Anglo-Australian mining houses, ArcelorMittal, the UK steel company, Russia’s Severstal, and Chinalco, the state-owned Chinese mining company.

Buoyant demand for steel has lifted iron ore prices, intensifying global competition for Africa’s hitherto little exploited deposits, and pushing companies into increasingly risky territory.

Liberia and Sierra Leone emerged only recently from civil wars, while Guinea has been teetering on the brink of conflict since the death of dictator Lansana Conte prompted a military coup in 2008.

As yet there is little infrastructure to facilitate mineral exports from any of these countries, whose governments want to use the multinational corporations to fund the ports, roads, and railways needed to lift their struggling economies.

Last month, Vale agreed to spend between $5bn-$8bn on building mines, ports, and railways in Guinea and Liberia by 2020. By comparison, the gross domestic product of Liberia is under $1bn (€800m, £700m).

Vale entered the region by paying Beny Steinmetz Group (BSG), a mini-conglomerate associated with the Israeli billionaire, $2.5bn for exploration rights in Guinea’s Simandou mountains.

BSG’s claim is controversial, as Rio Tinto still disputes the Guinean government’s decision in 2008 to remove half of its Simandou exploration rights.

Teams from both Vale and BSG are in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, to negotiate details of the infrastructure deal with the country’s government. The idea is to transport the iron ore mined in Guinea through Liberia to a new export facility on the coast.

Marc Struik, head of mining at BSG, told the Financial Times the Vale-BSG joint venture wanted to build a new port at Didia in Liberia. That could cost $1bn, Mr Struik estimated.

The joint venture, he said, could spend more than $5bn on ancillary infrastructure to run the Simandou mines in Guinea. This would include two railway lines. The first would reconstruct a line through Guinea for passenger use. The second would be a new line to carry iron ore through Liberia to Didia.

The venture hoped to finalise the plan by the end of June, BSG said. It has signed only a memorandum of understanding with Liberia, which potentially stands to gain as much as Guinea from ore exports.

“We have come with a proposal that no one else has matched,” said Mr Struik. “Liberia is not going to stop the infrastructure development agreement.”

But recent history has shown such agreements to be fragile. Rio Tinto has not acknowledged that it has lost the title to the northern block of Simandou, which Vale now controls.

Rio still holds exploration rights in the southern Simandou block, where most of the region’s known reserves of iron ore are found.

In March, Rio brought in Chinalco, China’s state champion, in a joint venture to develop Simandou. Chinalco has ties to Chinese infrastructure contractors that could be key to developing the southern Simandou block – or more.

But no one is jumping to conclusions about the outcome. Elections are coming up in Guinea. Vale’s deal was signed by the interim government, installed after the former military leader was shot. Guinea’s unions and some opposition politicians say no new deals should have been made in the transitional period.

Done well, this can be a big boost to local economic development.  The hoped-for key difference with the past is the sustained, boom-like demand from Asia, which constitutes a socio-economic revolution all its own for Africa.

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Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to South Africa

The secret military agreement signed by Shimon Peres, now president of Israel, and P W Botha of South Africa.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper said it has proof that Israel had offered to sell nuclear warheads to South Africa in 1975. Documents uncovered by an American academic researching Israel’s ties with South Africa’s then-white minority government claims that Israeli President Shimon Peres, then defense minister, had offered the warheads “in three sizes”.

Secret South African documents reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime, providing the first official documentary evidence of the state’s possession of nuclear weapons.

The “top secret” minutes of meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975 show that South Africa‘s defence minister, PW Botha, asked for the warheads and Shimon Peres, then Israel’s defence minister and now its president, responded by offering them “in three sizes”. The two men also signed a broad-ranging agreement governing military ties between the two countries that included a clause declaring that “the very existence of this agreement” was to remain secret.

The documents, uncovered by an American academic, Sasha Polakow-Suransky, in research for a book on the close relationship between the two countries, provide evidence that Israel has nuclear weapons despite its policy of “ambiguity” in neither confirming nor denying their existence.

The Israeli authorities tried to stop South Africa’s post-apartheid government declassifying the documents at Polakow-Suransky’s request and the revelations will be an embarrassment, particularly as this week’s nuclear non-proliferation talks in New York focus on the Middle East.

They will also undermine Israel’s attempts to suggest that, if it has nuclear weapons, it is a “responsible” power that would not misuse them, whereas countries such as Iran cannot be trusted.

A spokeswoman for Peres today said the report was baseless and there were “never any negotiations” between the two countries. She did not comment on the authenticity of the documents.

South African documents show that the apartheid-era military wanted the missiles as a deterrent and for potential strikes against neighbouring states.

The documents show both sides met on 31 March 1975. Polakow-Suransky writes in his book published in the US this week, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s secret alliance with apartheid South Africa. At the talks Israeli officials “formally offered to sell South Africa some of the nuclear-capable Jericho missiles in its arsenal”.

Among those attending the meeting was the South African military chief of staff, Lieutenant General RF Armstrong. He immediately drew up a memo in which he laid out the benefits of South Africa obtaining the Jericho missiles but only if they were fitted with nuclear weapons.

The memo, marked “top secret” and dated the same day as the meeting with the Israelis, has previously been revealed but its context was not fully understood because it was not known to be directly linked to the Israeli offer on the same day and that it was the basis for a direct request to Israel. In it, Armstrong writes: “In considering the merits of a weapon system such as the one being offered, certain assumptions have been made: a) That the missiles will be armed with nuclear warheads manufactured in RSA (Republic of South Africa) or acquired elsewhere.”

But South Africa was years from being able to build atomic weapons. A little more than two months later, on 4 June, Peres and Botha met in Zurich. By then the Jericho project had the codename Chalet.

The top secret minutes of the meeting record that: “Minister Botha expressed interest in a limited number of units of Chalet subject to the correct payload being available.” The document then records: “Minister Peres said the correct payload was available in three sizes. Minister Botha expressed his appreciation and said that he would ask for advice.” The “three sizes” are believed to refer to the conventional, chemical and nuclear weapons.

The use of a euphemism, the “correct payload”, reflects Israeli sensitivity over the nuclear issue and would not have been used had it been referring to conventional weapons. It can also only have meant nuclear warheads as Armstrong’s memorandum makes clear South Africa was interested in the Jericho missiles solely as a means of delivering nuclear weapons.

In addition, the only payload the South Africans would have needed to obtain from Israel was nuclear. The South Africans were capable of putting together other warheads.

Botha did not go ahead with the deal in part because of the cost. In addition, any deal would have to have had final approval by Israel’s prime minister and it is uncertain it would have been forthcoming.

South Africa eventually built its own nuclear bombs, albeit possibly with Israeli assistance. But the collaboration on military technology only grew over the following years. South Africa also provided much of the yellowcake uranium that Israel required to develop its weapons.

The documents confirm accounts by a former South African naval commander, Dieter Gerhardt – jailed in 1983 for spying for the Soviet Union. After his release with the collapse of apartheid, Gerhardt said there was an agreement between Israel and South Africa called Chalet which involved an offer by the Jewish state to arm eight Jericho missiles with “special warheads”. Gerhardt said these were atomic bombs. But until now there has been no documentary evidence of the offer.

Some weeks before Peres made his offer of nuclear warheads to Botha, the two defence ministers signed a covert agreement governing the military alliance known as Secment. It was so secret that it included a denial of its own existence: “It is hereby expressly agreed that the very existence of this agreement… shall be secret and shall not be disclosed by either party”.

The agreement also said that neither party could unilaterally renounce it.

The existence of Israel’s nuclear weapons programme was revealed by Mordechai Vanunu to the Sunday Times in 1986. He provided photographs taken inside the Dimona nuclear site and gave detailed descriptions of the processes involved in producing part of the nuclear material but provided no written documentation.

Documents seized by Iranian students from the US embassy in Tehran after the 1979 revolution revealed the Shah expressed an interest to Israel in developing nuclear arms. But the South African documents offer confirmation Israel was in a position to arm Jericho missiles with nuclear warheads.

Israel pressured the present South African government not to declassify documents obtained by Polakow-Suransky. “The Israeli defence ministry tried to block my access to the Secment agreement on the grounds it was sensitive material, especially the signature and the date,” he said. “The South Africans didn’t seem to care; they blacked out a few lines and handed it over to me. The ANC government is not so worried about protecting the dirty laundry of the apartheid regime’s old allies.”

Peres on Monday categorically denied the report.

Israeli President Shimon Peres on Monday categorically denied a report that he offered nuclear warheads to South Africa in 1975, when he was defense minister.The report published Sunday in the British newspaper The Guardian is based on an American academic’s research and claims to cite secret minutes of a meeting Peres held with senior South African officials.

Peres said Israel never negotiated the transfer of nuclear weapons to South Africa.

“There exists no basis in reality for the claims published this morning by The Guardian that in 1975 Israel negotiated with South Africa the exchange of nuclear weapons,” the president said in an English-language statement. “Unfortunately, The Guardian elected to write its piece based on the selective interpretation of South African documents and not on concrete facts.”

The article is based on a series of documents the South African government declassified in response to a request from American academic Sasha Polakow-Suransky, who is writing a book called “The Unspoken Alliance” about the close relationship between the Israel and South Africa.

Appearing alongside the article, the partially censored documents show a formal request from the South Africans for nuclear-capable warheads, and minutes of meetings in which then-Defense Minister Peres listed weapons available for sale.

But they do not appear to confirm any transfer of weapons, or any explicit offer from the Israelis to sell nuclear materials or nuclear-capable weapons to the South Africans.

The documents accompanying the story do show Peres’ signature on minutes from a meeting where the then-defense minister discussed payloads available in “three sizes,” one of several phrases that Peres said The Guardian misconstrued.

In response to the article, the South African government said it has dismantled all its nuclear weapons but did not relate to the 1975 claim.

The British paper did not call the Israeli government for a response to the article, Peres said, adding that his office “intends to send a harsh letter to the editor of The Guardian and demands the publication of the true facts.”

The Guardian claims the documents offer the first documentary evidence of Israel’s nuclear program.

In 1986, another British newspaper, the Sunday Times, published pictures and descriptions from a former technician at Israel’s main nuclear reactor, leading experts to estimate that Israel had the world’s sixth-largest nuclear arsenal.

According to its policy, Israel has never acknowledged or denied possessing nuclear weapons, though it is widely assumed to have them.

The “top secret” minutes of meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975 show that South Africa‘s defence minister, PW Botha, asked for the warheads and Shimon Peres, then Israel’s defence minister and now its president, responded by offering them “in three sizes”. The two men also signed a broad-ranging agreement governing military ties between the two countries that included a clause declaring that “the very existence of this agreement” was to remain secret.

The documents, uncovered by an American academic, Sasha Polakow-Suransky, in research for a book on the close relationship between the two countries, provide evidence that Israel has nuclear weapons despite its policy of “ambiguity” in neither confirming nor denying their existence.

The Israeli authorities tried to stop South Africa’s post-apartheid government declassifying the documents at Polakow-Suransky’s request and the revelations will be an embarrassment, particularly as this week’s nuclear non-proliferation talks in New York focus on the Middle East.

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Chinese military in equipment in Angola

Angolan soldiers parade on the national day 11 November, 2005 in Luanda marking the 30th anniversary of independence from Portugal. Angola is considering asking the Chinese army and Chinese weapons companies for help in modernising its military, the chief of staff of the Angolan Armed Forces said Friday.… Read more »

Angola is thinking over buying military equipment from China. Not news per se……

LUANDA — Angola is considering asking the Chinese army and Chinese weapons companies for help in modernising its military, the chief of staff of the Angolan Armed Forces said Friday.

“Studies are under way into the re-equipping and the modernisation of our forces, with a view toward cooperation with the armed forces… and the defence industry in China,” Francisco Furtado said on national radio after meeting with his Chinese counterpart Chen Bingde.

Chen was on his first visit to Angola to give about one million dollars (805,000 euros) worth of computer equipment to Luanda, and to discuss consolidating bilateral cooperation deals signed in 2008.

China is heavily involved in Angola’s reconstruction after 27 years of civil war that ended in 2002.

The southern African country has already received at least five billion dollars in credit from Beijing — repaid in oil — but the World Bank believes up to eight billion dollars more has not been publicised.

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US trains Mali and Senegal Special forces

With its ever increasing African partnership, the US, Senegal and Mali kicked off their first special forces training mission in Mali.

Malian and Senegalese soldiers worked with their counterparts from the Special Operations Task Force (SOF) – 103, taking part in classes on small unit tactics, movements, and convoy vehicle recover drills, May 11, 2010 in Bamako.

The classes were part of Flintlock 10, an exercise focused on military interoperability and capacity-building, which is part of a U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM)-sponsored annual exercise program with partner nations in northern and western Africa. Flintlock 10, which includes participation of key European nations, is conducted by Special Operations Command Africa and designed to build relationships and develop capacity among security forces throughout the Trans-Saharan region of Africa.

“I am very grateful for us to receive this training,” said the commander of the Malian Airborne company being trained. “We have soldiers from all over to discuss techniques and tactics and it has been very beneficial for us.”

Over the last few weeks, the U.S. SOF advisors have focused training on close-quarter battle drills, battlefield medical treatment, and mission planning and movement – classes deemed necessary for the Malian and Senegalese soldiers to be able to conduct direct action raids on enemy targets.

“These are the kinds of techniques we can use against al-Qaeda,” said the Malian captain. “They are moving fast. They are not staying in one place, they are always moving. These techniques will help us fight them.”

According to one U.S. SOF soldier training the African soldiers, the focus of the training is to conduct direct-action missions, with a secondary emphasis on team mobility through desert terrain.

“The ultimate goal at the end is to have them run their own missions, from start to finish,” he said.

While the Malians and Senegalese are eager to learn the techniques of the U.S. soldiers, they face a major challenge of not being able to fund equipment, supplies and vehicles which may affect them being able to sustain the training.

“They are eager to learn more everyday; the only question will be if they are able to maintain these skills once we leave,” said the U.S. SOF soldier.

As training concluded for the day, the SOF trainers conducted a review with their African counterparts and explained what’s planned for the coming days.

Approximately 1,200 European, African Partner Nation and U.S. personnel from 14 nations are involved in military interoperability activities across the Trans-Saharan region during Flintlock 10.

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