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By Grant T. Harris June 6 at 6:00 AM

Grant T. Harris is CEO of Harris Africa Partners. He was senior director for Africa at the White House from 2011 to 2015.
Small shops at a market in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, display imported used clothing, known locally as chagua. (Jacques Nkinzingabo for The Washington Post)

Rwandans would like to wean themselves from American hand-me-downs, and the United States wants to punish them for it. Last week, the Trump administration suspended duty-free access to U.S. markets for Rwandan clothing. This may sound like inconsequential news, compared with the prospect of a trade war with China, the European Union or our Canadian neighbors, but the move follows a dangerous trend of disregard for Africa. And it’s not just Africans who will suffer: Neglecting the continent will foreclose trade opportunities, harm U.S. companies and, ultimately, cost U.S. jobs.

Rwanda and several of its neighbors recently introduced tariffs on used clothing in an attempt to bolster the local apparel industry. In response, a U.S. trade group filed a complaint, claiming that the new tariffs violate the terms of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which requires participating countries to reduce trade barriers for U.S. goods. Unlike its neighbors, Rwanda stayed the course. The administration has every right to retaliate under the terms of the act — but the move is inconsistent and shortsighted.

For a start, the administration can hardly claim to be acting on principle. More than 100 countries benefit from U.S. trade preference programs without returning the favor. Florie Liser, former assistant U.S. trade representative for Africa, notes that countries like India and Brazil, which are major exporters to the United States under the program known as the Generalized System of Preferences, “ship a lot more to us than Rwanda, yet have significant barriers to U.S. trade.” The selective decision to retaliate against Rwanda not only adds to the general trade turmoil damaging U.S. standing overseas but also is seen as a particular snub of Africa, where President Trump’s derogatory comments about its countries have not been forgotten.

The administration can’t claim to be protecting a vital American industry, either. The complaints of the used-clothing association — that Rwandan tariffs would have a negative impact on up to 40,000 U.S. jobs — are unsubstantiated. Rwanda, a country of approximately 12.5 million people, imported $17 million in used clothing in 2016, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development. The clothes are primarily donations to organizations like the Salvation Army and Goodwill, bought by members of the trade group that lodged the complaint, the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association, and resold in Africa. Rwandan vendors sell them in market stalls.

[African nations are fed up with the West’s hand-me-downs]

Rwanda’s motivations are as much about dignity as they are about economics. Just as China recently banned imports of “foreign garbage” that it used to buy and recycle, Rwanda is taking a stand against the perceived indignity of buying clothes that others have worn and discarded. It would be a different story if Rwandans were rejecting icons of American ingenuity and enterprise, like cutting-edge medical devices or mobile technologies. But they’re not; they’re rejecting our hand-me-downs. The White House fails to grasp that, as well as the bigger picture for the United States. It’s not just Rwanda — the president is picking fights with trading partners old and new over relatively small amounts of U.S. imports and exports and with little regard for the long-term consequences. As relationships fray — even longtime allies feel under duress — the price to the United States rises; the country will pay not just in self-inflicted economic harm but also in diminished global leadership and reduced support for its national security priorities.

Banning used clothes is not enough to build Rwanda’s domestic textile and apparel industry, especially given competition from cheap Chinese imports of ready-made clothing. But there is a certain irony in Trump punishing Rwanda for protecting domestic manufacturing in what really is a Rwandan version of “America First.” More to the point, the United States ought to be supporting countries that pursue economic growth and development plans — not just because it is the right thing to do but also because the vitality of the U.S. economy depends on whether we have markets for our goods and services.

Until recently, supporting African economic growth was a key piece of U.S.-Africa policy. For instance, building on the African Growth and Opportunity Act’s strong legacy of bipartisan support, President Barack Obama launched the Trade Africa initiative to support regional economic integration and work toward a more reciprocal trade relationship. But the suspension of access for Rwandan apparel reinforces the sad truth that the Trump administration has no vision for trade with Africa. And there is no question that U.S. businesses will suffer as a result. Africa represents the last frontier for America’s export-driven economy, with consumer and business spending predicted to reach $6.7 trillion by 2030. A U.S. government report released last week cited motor vehicles, poultry and refined petroleum products among various sectors, as well as a range of services, with the potential for greater American exports to sub-Saharan Africa.

The United States misses a larger opportunity by engaging in petty trade squabbles and generally neglecting the continent. While it is true that the Trump administration maintains that it supports more reciprocal trade relationships with African states and has been studying trade and investment potential in certain African markets, advancing a strategic economic partnership with Africa requires more than talk. Actions — like threatening the funding of government agencies that support U.S. companies investing in Africa, leaving key ambassadorships vacant and deprioritizing trade programs — speak louder than words.

Meanwhile, other economies are making aggressive commercial plays in Africa. China has been Africa’s leading trade partner for the last nine years; trade scuffles like this one with Rwanda can only further drive African states into China’s open arms. Nor is it just China — the European Union has been actively traveling the region, signing two-way trade agreements that will disadvantage American companies far more than any tariffs on secondhand clothing.

It would be misguided to dismiss this row with Rwanda as a small issue with a small country. The larger economic picture is much more worrying.

 

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Diplomacy in Korea and the Hope It Inspires

History will be made this week with the summit meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. With a second summit between Kim and President Donald Trump looming in four to six weeks or so, it’s tempting to look past this first summit, but that would be a mistake. This inter-Korean summit could well be the more important of the two. Should North and South Korea continue to make solid progress toward peace and reconciliation, and there is every reason to think they will, agreements made at this first summit will set the stage for subsequent negotiations, including the Trump-Kim summit.

Recent media reports are full of speculation about U.S., Chinese and Japanese interests and influences over the North-South Korea talks. This is understandable, but the real story here is about Koreans making peace.

It’s remarkable how far we’ve come since just the beginning of the year, when the opening created by the Olympic Truce greased the wheels for smart diplomacy by the governments of both South and North Korea, leading to an astonishing thaw in relations.

Even before the two summits begin, North Korea has agreed to freeze its nuclear weapons and missile tests, agreed to discuss denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and voiced openness to the continued presence of 28,000 American troops in South Korea. Just last week, North and South Korea discussed signing a peace treaty to replace the supposedly temporary armistice in place since 1953 (meaning a state of war still technically exists between the North and the South and the U.S.). Also, remarkable in terms of symbolic and practical meaning, they discussed

returning the border to a more normal state. The “Demilitarized Zone” is of course a misnomer, perhaps even ironic at this point, as it is the most heavily militarized patch of land on Earth.

All of this incredible progress has occurred despite the North’s understandable loathing of the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises, the largest in the world, which are currently in progress. Beyond that, no sanctions on North Korea have yet been lifted, and neither the inter-Korean summit nor the U.S.-North Korean summit meetings have happened yet.

North Korea has pivoted to an emphasis on economic development over further military investment, as announced by Kim on New Year’s Day and in more recent statements. The United States should honor the remarkable steps North Korea has taken to demonstrate it is operating in good faith with a reciprocal commitment for peace. Ultimately, U.S. goals should include the signing of a peace treaty, the lifting of economic sanctions against North Korea, and the integration of North Korea into a regional and world economy, which is key to long-term peace and stability on the Peninsula.

While recent diplomatic progress has inspired hope for peace around the world, few feel the full weight of that hope more than Koreans. South Koreans overwhelmingly support a peace agreement to end Korean War, 79% according to the latest poll.

For many Korean and Korean-American family members divided by Korean War, these summits offer the hope of being reunited with their families—the last hope for some. According to the latest government report, 131,447 South Koreans are registered as separated families since 1988. Over 73,611 have passed away since 1988 when the registration opened, and a quarter of those alive are over 90 years old.

In the U.S., Members of Congress to show their support for diplomacy and a successful summit with public statements, and by co-sponsoring the “No Unconstitutional First Strike on Korea Act,” S. 2016 sponsored by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and H.R. 4837  sponsored by Representative Ro Khanna. It’s time we all gave peace on the Korean Peninsula a real chance.

 

by:SIMONE CHUN – KEVIN MARTIN

Dr. Simone Chun serves on the Steering Committee of the Alliance of Scholars Concerned about Korea. Kevin Martin is President of Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund, and also convenes the Korea Peace Network. www.peaceaction.org

 

Attention

“What governments need to pay extra attention to should be high unemployment rate; with a large population of an educated youth force with shattered expectations, and an uneven distribution of wealth. These problems are also faced by democratic governments as well. With the use of new information technologies to quickly spread news and images to help organize street protests, no government will be able to escape the wrath of the citizens.”
“Those governments who objectively understand the existence of the problems within their societies will be able to find remedies, in time. Those who are blind and deaf to the realities within society, those government leaders who love to hear sugar coated lies from their snake oil salesmen advisors, those leaders who are way removed from the “real” people and are surrounded by cheerleaders are bound to repeat the usual historical mistake. False sense of security cannot replicate the reality. Neither Zine Al-Abiidine Ben Ali nor Hosni Mubarak thought that they will be kicked out so quickly by the same people that they had oppressed for long and had taken them for granted.”
Kidane Tsegai.

One of the most truthful and principled writers that I have respect for.

Professor Mekonen Haddis

America has had its share of crooks (Warren G. Harding, Richard Nixon), bigots (Andrew Jackson, James Buchanan), and incompetents (Andrew Johnson, George W. Bush). But never before Donald Trump have we had a president who combined all these nefarious qualities.

These are admirable combined qualities of U.S. President Trump.

Professor Mekonen Haddis

DECEMBER 19, 2017

Why Can’t France Leave Africa Alone? 

by AIDAN O’BRIEN

“Without Africa, France will have no history in the 21st century.”

— François Mitterrand, 1957

“Without Africa, France will slide down into the rank of a third [world] power.”

— Jacques Chirac, 2008

“France, along with Europe, would like to be even more involved in the destiny of [Africa]…”

— François Hollande, 2013

“I am of a generation that doesn’t tell Africans what to do.”

— Emmanuel Macron, 2017

France’s great white hope – Emmanuel Macron – was selling himself in Africa recently. He was full of jokes and smiles. However, while the package had “youthful innocence” written all over it – the product was “senile dementia”. No matter the age of the man – the French attempt to lead Africa is a stale and stupid story. And the man – Macron – is yet another stale and stupid French mask.

The mask fell in a public forum in Burkina Faso when the French military and it’s presence in Africa was questioned by a girl. In response Macron hysterically told the local audience that they should applaud the French soldiers on African streets.

The problem was that the day before a local – instead of applauding – threw a hand grenade at French troops. And the following day a few more locals shouted for an end to neocolonialism. The militarization of French policy in Africa is beginning to smell like a rotten occupation.

But when has it been otherwise? Since it began occupying Africa in the 19th century France has expected nothing else but applause. The package at the beginning of this long war on Africa was “civilization”. But that never did conceal the vile racism and base capitalism that drove the French army across the Sahara.

In a giant pincer movement beginning around 1830 and ending on the eve of the First World War, France slowly but surely conquered most of West and Central Africa. Moving east from Dakar and south from Algiers the French military stole probably 40% of the continent.

However while “France” was away terrorizing Africa – Paris met it’s nemesis: Berlin. The Teutonic power woke up and ironically proceeded to do to France what France was doing to Africa. In a series of wars and occupations (1871, 1914 and 1940) Germany mercilessly crushed the place of France in the world. And by 1960, more or less, France was out of Africa. And was ripe for revolution. Or counterrevolution.

The Fifth Republic couldn’t hide the failure of bourgeois France. 1968 exposed it for all to see. And forced it to choose one way or the other. It could either follow the example of Africa and attempt to liberate itself from the culture, economics, and politics of imperialism. Or it could attempt to restore imperialism. And reconquer Africa.

The Fifth Republic chose the latter. And it has been a race to the bottom ever since. France’s significant Communist Party was rejected (the Socialist Party too – eventually). As was Jean Paul Sartre. Bourgeois mediocrity became the rule. And by the year 2000 politicians like Nicolas Sarkozy and philosophers like Bernard-Henri Lévy were ready to lead France back into the arms of NATO (De Gaulle had taken France out of NATO in 1966) and it’s naked imperialism.

France was no longer a European force but a European farce. German neoliberalism dominated the new European century. And France could do nothing but prostrate itself before Berlin and it’s demonic religion: austerity (cheap labor). However, there was one place where France could act like “France” – there was one place where France could escape the German “will to power”: Africa.

The French “will to backward power” had one dirty trick left up it’s sleeve: it’s army in Africa. When France retreated from the African continent in the 1950s and 1960s it left behind active military bases that continued to give it leverage in Africa. Indeed according to the website Stratfor:

“Following their independence, 12 [African] countries signed secret national defense agreements with France. The agreements, which have never been made public, allow France to retain a physical presence in the countries in exchange for defending their national sovereignty [sic]…”

We can guess the countries that signed up to these nefarious French deals: Morocco, Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Tunisia, Chad, Cotes d’Ivoire, Central African Republic, Gabon and Djibouti. A few more – according to those in the know – were later added to the list: Rwanda, Burundi and Zaire (the Democratic Republic of Congo). In any case the picture was and is clear: before leaving (and even after leaving) Africa – France threw a web around Africa.

And what did these arrangements mean in reality? In 2007 the New York Times wrote that “France intervened militarily in Africa nineteen times between 1962 and 1995.” And Stratfor in 2016 calculated 42 French interventions between 1968 and 2013.

The New York Times cut off point significantly is 1995 because in 1994 France lost out to the USA in the strategic battle for Rwanda (a million or more Hutus and Tutsis died in this battle – and millions were killed in the battles which followed in the Congo etc.). And in the years after this key turning point in African geopolitics – French power in Africa decisively decreased – not only because of the military power of the USA (AFRICOM) but also because of the new economic power of China.

The times were changing in the 1990s. France was losing “the battles” for Europe and Africa. It was becoming a second rate power. Nonetheless that trick remained up it’s sleeve: the overt and covert military arrangements it had arranged in Africa. France’s finger was still on the trigger. The counterrevolution desperately needed a new lease of life. And the “Arab Spring” gave it one.

When Tunisia began to protest in 2010, France responded by offering it’s “military might” (it’s “technical support and police know how”) to it’s Tunisian agent: Ben Ali. And when that French attempt to repress African independence failed – France led the wars against independent Libya in 2011 (Opération Harmattan) and independent Azawad (Opération Serval in northern Mali, etc.) in 2013.

In 2014 the situation was such that Newsweek claimed that “France is slowly reclaiming its old African Empire”. And by 2015 the Business Insider was reporting that “France’s military is all over Africa”. Thousands of French soldiers were spread out across the Sahara and beyond (Opération Barkhane). But the fact is that they were fighting to save not Africa but “France”.

The pathetic attempt to restore bourgeois France (dare we say Bourbon France – because it’s that bad in Europe right now) has reached the stage were France’s military is not only all over Africa but is also all over France (Opération Sentinelle). In 2015 – after gun attacks in Paris – the French army began to occupy French streets. And then in 2017 along came Président Macron (le dauphin? – the prince?) riding on “a tank” to his inauguration.

In the uncompetitive (in bourgeois terms) French economy the only competitor seemed to be the French military. They were and are occupying both sides of the francophone Mediterranean. And Macron was and is applauding. As he gives lower taxes and cheaper labor to the decrepit bourgeoisie – he gives the military the freedom of the streets. And the freedom of Africa.

Macron claims not to be telling the Africans what to do. But the French State is another matter. It has institutionalized the relationship between France and Africa (Françafrique). And it refuses to let go of it’s delusions of grandeur. In the last few years it has told Africa in no uncertain terms what it must do with Libya and Azawad (northern Mali and its environs). And today it marshals African forces (G5 Sahel) as they pursue shadows in the Sahara.

For Macron “jihadis” and “human traffickers” are the story. But neocolonialism is the bottom line. Or the French attempt to recreate neocolonialism is the real story. The French military are the claws of the French state. And as bourgeois France fades away, or slides down the memory hole of history, it’s claws are going to dig deep into whatever material is near at hand – in a desperate effort to avoid the inevitable. Africa is that material – the material of the future. While France, despite its machinations, is just flotsam.

The people of Burkina Faso are right to question the presence of the French military in Africa. They know more than the infantile French President. And they’ve a better sense of reality than the senile French State. Hand grenades do make more sense than applause.

“the French attempt to recreate neocolonialism is the real story”. “France refuses to let go of its delusions of grandeur”. This is a good article, hope you enjoy it.

Professor Mekonen Haddis

The Nile entering the Eastern Mediterranean. NASA image 1993

by ERIC TOUSSAINT

 

Sovereign debt has been a crucial factor in a series of major historical events. From the early 19th century, in Latin American countries such as Colombia, Mexico and Argentina, struggling for independence,as well as Greece when seeking funds for its war of independence, these nascent countries borrowed from London bankers under leonine conditions which finally subjugated them into a new cycle of subordination.

Other states lost their sovereignty quite officially. Tunisia enjoyed some amount of autonomy in the Ottoman Empire, but was indebted to Parisian bankers. France used the ruse of debt to justify its tutelage over Tunisia and its colonization. Ten years later, in 1882, Egypt similarly lost its independence. In the pursuit of recovering debts owed to the English banks, Great Britain launched a military occupation of the country and then colonized it (http://www.cadtm.org/Debt-as-an-ins… ).


Debt “assures” the domination of one country over another

The Great Powers were quick to realise that the interest from a country’s external debt would be massive enough to justify a military intervention and a tutelage, at a time when it was considered acceptable to wage wars for debt recovery.


The 19th century Greek debt crisis resembles the current crisis

The problems flaring up in London in December 1825, ensued from the first major international banking crisis. When banks feel threatened, they no longer want to lend, as could be seen after the Lehman Brothers crisis in 2008. Emerging states, such as Greece, had borrowed under such obnoxious conditions, and the sum in hand was so little compared to the actual loan, that fresh borrowing became necessary to repay their existing debt. When the banks stopped lending, Greece was no longer able to refinance its debt and so suspended repayments in 1827.

This is where the “debt system” is similar to the present scenario: the French and British monarchies, and the Russian Tsar – the “Troika” of the time – approved of a loan to Greece and its emergence as an independent state in order to destabilize the Ottoman Empire. In exchange, in 1832, they signed a “Treaty on the sovereignty of Greece”, which I bring to light in my book. It established a monarchy, while the independentists wished for a Republic. Otto I, the chosen regent, was a 15 years-old Bavarian prince, who had no knowledge of Greece or its language. The document stipulated that the monarchy’s budget should have a provision giving priority to the repayment of the debts to the three powers. The repayment would be routed through the Rothschild Bank of Paris through which the London bankers would be paid. Greece must also reimburse the Troika’s expenses for installing this monarchy and for recruiting 3,500 Bavarian mercenaries to wage a war of “independence”.

I have also shown that in the early 19th century, only 20% of Greece’s loans actually arrived in Greece. The rest was diverted to paying Rothschild’s commissions, the fees of the mercenaries, their travel expenses to Greece and other expenses incurred in creating the monarchy.

Since then, Greece has been living in a situation of permanent subordination, which has been even more manifest since 2010. Once again, public authorities joined hands to raise funds to pay private creditors: this time, the French, German, Belgian and Dutch banks.

History also points to a complicity between the ruling classes of the indebted countries and the creditor states

To understand the history of the debt system, the role of the local ruling class has to be kept in mind. It always urges the authorities to borrow internally and externally, these funds permit the bourgeoisie to avoid being heavily taxed. This class also lives on the income from the government bonds issued by its own country.

When Benito Juárez, the Mexican Liberal Democrat, partly repudiated the debts previously contracted by the conservatives, some of the bourgeoisie requested French naturalization hoping that France would use the pretext of reimbursing its nationals to try to overthrow the regime with a military intervention.
The same holds true today. At the end of 2001, when Argentina suspended debt repayment, the country’s bourgeoisie was offended, because the Argentine capitalists held a large part of the debt that had been issued on Wall Street.

The concept of “odious” debt that was developed in the 1920s was produced neither by the left nor by “alterglobalists”

During the 19th century, there was a series of debt repudiations, especially in the United States. In 1830, social upheavals led to the overthrow of corrupt governments in four of the states. These states also repudiated their debt to crooked bankers. Infrastructure projects planned with this debt had never materialised due to corruption.

In 1865, when the “North” won against the “South”, it was decreed that the latter should abrogate their debts to banks for financing the war (this is the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States). A debt was considered “odious” because it was contracted to defend slavery.

At the end of the 19th century, the United States also refused to allow Cuba, which had gained independence with the help of US military intervention, to repay Spain’s debt incurred in Paris on behalf of its colony. The United States considered it “odious” because it financed the domination of Cuba and the wars that Spain waged elsewhere.

In 1919, Costa Rica repudiated a debt contracted, for his family, by the former dictator Tinoco. The arbitrator who intervened and ratified the repudiation happened to be a former US president. The reason: the loan was intended for personal purposes.

Alexander Sack, a Russian legal theorist, who was exiled in Paris after the Bolshevik revolution, formulated a legal doctrine based on all these jurisprudence cases. He stated that the debts contracted by a previous regime are binding on the nation, but there is an exception: if the debt was contracted against the interests of the people and the creditors were aware or could have been aware of it, the debt can be decreed odious and be cancelled.

Sack was a conservative professor, seeking to defend creditors’ interests, and preach them caution about to whom they are lending and the purpose. His statement shows that it is possible for nations to repudiate a debt, should it be odious.

The Greek debt is “odious”

Since 2010, the Troika has been asking Greece to repay loans that have clearly been granted against the interest of the Greek people. Their fundamental rights have been throttled and their living conditions have deteriorated under such impositions. There is evidence that the money lent returned immediately to the foreign or Greek banks responsible for the crisis. It can also be proved that the Troika governments were perfectly aware and responsible for this because it was they who dictated the contents of the memorandum.

This conclusion is also valid for France

A bevy of audits, submitted in April 2014, identified 59% of the French debt as illegitimate. It did not serve the interests of the French people. It benefited a minority that enjoyed tax cuts, and banks charging high interest rates.

After a repudiation, will the States be able to find banks willing to lend again?

There is certainly an apprehension regarding creditors, but the widespread idea that a state is less likely to get fresh loans once it repudiates a debt is quite false. For example, Mexico repudiated its debt in 1861, 1867, 1883, and 1913, but found new lenders each time. This is because some bankers do not hesitate to lend when they see that a country has regained good financial health after suspending its debt service or repudiating its debt.

After repudiating its debt in 1837, Portugal went on to contract 14 successive loans with French bankers. In February 1918, the Soviets repudiated the debts contracted by the Tsar. A blockade was enforced, but it was lifted after 1922, when the British decided to lend to the Russians, so that they could buy British equipment. Germany, Norway, Sweden and Belgium followed suit. Even France renounced the blockade, even though 1.6 million French had bought Russian securities, through Crédit Lyonnais, that were repudiated after the revolution. It was the major French metallurgical producers that pressed for French loans to the Soviets, because they could sense orders at their doorsteps.

Another example: in 2003, ten days after invading Iraq, the US Treasury Secretary called upon his G7 colleagues to cancel Saddam Hussein’s debts, arguing that they were odious. The United States, however, had lent a great deal to Iraq in the late 1970s and in the 1980s to wage war against Iran. In October 2004, 80% of Iraq’s debt was cancelled.

Debt is also a stranglehold that prevents any alternative

Illegitimate debt needs to be cancelled before resources can be freed and a policy for ecological transition can be implemented, but this step alone is insufficient! Repudiating debts without implementing other policies concerning banks, money, taxation, the focal points of investments and democracy… would entail a rerun of the debt cycle. Repudiation must be part of an overall plan.