The letter below was sent on September 1, 2020 to the Bureau of African Affairs, Department of State. The letter does not express my full thoughts about what precipitated the coup and the polices necessary to ensure future of Mali. However, as a long standing member of the Mali Affinity Group, and fierce defender of Mali’s sovereignty, I support much of letter’s content.
A Way Forward for Mali
After several months of daily massive anti-government demonstrations in the streets of Mali’s capital city, Bamako, the Malian military intervened during the week of August 17 to remove President Keita and his government. While there appears to be broad and intense popular support for the military’s move, it violates the constitution and international law. In response, the West African community (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU), the United States, and the European Union condemned the military’s actions and it triggered the suspension of economic and military assistance from donor governments, as well as from the international financial institutions. While in the custody of the military, President Keita tendered his resignation, and has been allowed to return to his personal residence.
The ECOWAS mediator delegation, headed by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, had been working to end Mali’s internal political crisis for several weeks before the military takeover. This delegation is continuing to speak to the leaders of the military takeover, and to the different political factions, with the objective of returning the nation to civilian rule as soon as possible, through a brief transition, and new democratic elections.
The leaders of the military takeover are talking about a three year transition, revealing their total distrust of the Malian political elites. Such a long period of military rule is clearly unacceptable for a number of reasons, including the temptation to institute permanent military rule, as in the corrupt military dictatorship of General Moussa Traore, 1968-1991.
Here is what we recommend for U.S. policy toward the Republic of Mali at this time.
Continue to recognize and support the ECOWAS mediating mission as the lead international group to assist the Malians to establish an expeditious return to
Engage all stakeholders to implement the terms of the Algiers Accords without delay.
Through the U.S. Embassy Defense Attaché, encourage the Malian military commanders to immediately bring in civilian political persons to share planning and
implementation of the transition. (N.B. The head of the military takeover group is Colonel Assimi Goita, who trained in the United States with American Special
Encourage a mixed civilian and military transition of no more than one year, followed by the organization of elections. The process should include civilian political
leaders who are domestically or international known and respected for their democratic commitment to good governance, transparency, and free and fair elections
Provide assistance to American democracy institutions such as IRI and NDI to immediately send personnel to Mali to assist in the preparation of free and fair elections and reforms, and engage with civil society to address grievances around the political process with a special focus on combating corruption.
Inform the Malian takeover military leadership that economic and military assistance will be restored as soon as it is clear that the government is under civilian control, and that preparations for elections are well advanced.
Consult closely with the French Foreign Ministry, and the French military to encourage continued support in the fight against “jihadist” terrorists in the north of Mali.
Begin to plan significant economic development projects for the north in order to deal with the socioeconomic causes of the insurgency.
In my brief interview below with CGTN, I discuss the effects on Mali of the the Western organized regime change against Muammar al Gaddafi in October 2011. The 2012 coup in Mali as well as the recent coup, have as their immediate cause, the destruction of Libya led by President Obama and his immediate circle of advisors. However, it is the failure over decades to develop the Sahel with basic infrastructure in rail, roads, water, and electricity that has systematically affected the Sahel, creating the conditions for the growth of violent extremism. The imposed underdevelopment of the African continent is the underlying cause for the majority of political and economic hardships that plague Africa today.
Watch my interview below that begins at 11 minutes 40 seconds and ends at 14 minutes.
Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed: Debt Cancellation for the World to Survive
May 1, 2020
Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, has made an audacious salient call for debt cancellation for low income countries. It was published in the Opinion section of the April 30, New York Times, Why the Global Debt of Poor Nations Must Be Canceled, (printed in full below). PM Abiy is correct, debt cancellation is absolutely necessary to save lives and for developing nations to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. To compel a nation like Ethiopia to spend almost half of its revenue on debt service, while its people are suffering from a perfect storm of Desert Locust swarms, food insufficiency, and a weak healthcare infrastructure, is immoral if not criminal. PM Abiy wrote:
“At the very least, the suspension of debt payments should last not just until the end of 2020 but rather until well after the pandemic is truly over. It should involve not just debt suspension but debt cancellation…
“These steps need to be taken with a sense of urgency. The resources freed up will save lives and livelihoods in the short term, bring back hope and dynamism to low-income economies in the medium term and enable them to continue as the engines of sustainable global prosperity in the long term.
“In 2019, 64 countries, nearly half of them in sub-Saharan Africa, spent more on servicing external debt than on health. Ethiopia spends twice as much on paying off external debt as on health. We spend 47 percent of our merchandise export revenue on debt servicing…
“The dilemma Ethiopia faces is stark: Do we continue to pay toward debt or redirect resources to save lives and livelihoods?”
PM Abiy’s analysis of the urgent need for the cancellation of debt service is relevant to the exacerbating effect of COVID-19 in Africa’s rising food insecurity.
COVID-19 Worsens Food Crisis
In the month from March 30 to April 30, COVID-19 cases in Africa rose from 4,760 to 37,296-800% increase, and the total of deaths from 146 to 1,619-1,100% increase. Experts are legitimately concerned, that millions more may die from hunger and poverty as a result of the needed efforts to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Closing borders, stay at home orders, loss of income, interruption of supply chains, and disruption of traditional animal migration cycles inauspiciously contribute to amplifying food insecurity.
“If the pandemic worsens, as many as 50 million more people could face a food crisis in the [Sahel} region,” according to Coumba Sow, Food and Agricultural Organization Resilience Coordinator for West Africa in her interview: FAO: COVID19: 50 Million in Sahel Could Face Food Crisis. Coumba Sow reports that across West Africa, 11 million people need immediate food assistance and that this number could rise to 17 million in the period from June to August. She says that it is “crucial to anticipate COVID-19’s impacts on agriculture, food security and the lives of vulnerable women and children. Ensuring that food systems and food supply chains are maintained is one of the most important action to take at national and regional levels.”
The World Food Programme (WFP) projects that the number of people facing acute food insecurity could rise from 135 million to 265 million in 2020 as a result of COVID-19. According to the WFP, five of the countries that had the worst food crisis in 2019 were located in Africa; Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Arif Husain, economist for the WFP said: “COVID-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are hanging by a thread. It is a hammer blow for millions more who can only eat it they earn a wage. Lockdowns and global economic recession have already decimated their nest eggs. It only takes one more shock—like COVID-19 to push them over the edge.”
A New Financial Architecture Required
While debt cancellation is essential, international and federal mechanisms are required to issue i.e. create new lines of credit to build up nation-wide advanced healthcare infrastructure, which all African nations lack. This endeavor should be part of a much larger undertaking to place African nations on a path to become developed industrialized economies. I discuss the importance of emerging nations to generate physical economic wealth in my earlier article: World Needs New Economic Platform to Fight COVID-19. Trillions of dollars of new credit must become accessible for African nations to address the dearth of infrastructure in energy, roads, railroads, and healthcare, that is literally killing Africans, every day. Successful transformation of African nations requires an urgent focus on nurturing combined manufacturing-agricultural processing industries. Speaking at a Johns Hopkins webinar on April 22, Gyude Moore, former Liberian Minster of Public Works (2014-2018) emphasized that creating manufacturing jobs is essential to transitioning to a more developed economy.
What has been glaringly brought to the surface by the combined COVID-19 pandemic and the malnourishment of Africa’s population is; that the global economic-political system of the last five decades has failed. A new financial architecture is compulsory to save lives and put civilization on the trajectory of progress. This new financial architecture should encompass the following essential missions in Africa:
Cancellation of debt
New credit generation for physical economic growth
Massive investment in hard infrastructure
Urgent mobilization to establish modern health infrastructure
Significant upgrading of manufacturing and agricultural sectors
It is unacceptable in the twenty-first century for every nation not to be equipped with advanced modern healthcare infrastructure. One of the most egregious defects of globalization is that nations have become dependent on imported food from thousands of miles away because it is somehow construed to be cheaper than producing food at home.
Nations exist to foster the continuation of a human culture moored to the conception that human life is sacred. There is no equivalency between servicing debt and safeguarding human life. Money really has no intrinsic value. Banks are mere servicing bureaus of an economy. Governments legitimately create credit to generate future physical wealth to benefit their citizens. When borrowing or lending arrangements fail to benefit society then they should be restructured or cancelled. Such financial reorganizations have been achieved many times throughout history.
PM Abiy has brought to the attention of the world, a profound underlying principle that should govern all national and international policy: the promotion of human life is supreme, monetary instruments are not.
Today the food supply of East Africa is threatened by a locust swarm that is ravaging crops in several nations. The Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is an extremely destructive pest that is found from West Africa, east across the African continent to the Middle East, India, and Asia.
A Desert Locust upsurge can grow into a swarm, and under the right conditions develop into a plague, affecting two or more regions with concentrated locust infestations. When locust swarms grow and migrate, they endanger the food supply of dozens of nations that comprise a large portion of the earth’s surface. The 1986-1989 plague is reported to have affected over 40 nations destroying crops in the Sahel, North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and southwestern Asia.
In 2016, the World Metrological Organization (WMO), and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO), released a report, Weather and Desert Locusts, documenting that the invasion area of the Desert Locusts extends to 30 million square kilometers, over 11.5 million square miles-almost the size of the entire African continent.
The international community must initiate a full scale military style operation to support African nations with resources and personnel, if we are to prevent thousands of more Africans from starvation. Africa, Arabia, India, Pakistan cannot afford a new plague; we have the power to act now to prevent such a catastrophe.
Now is also the opportune time for civilization to confront the more difficult task of “eliminating” desert conditions that spawn the locust. Many initiatives and water infrastructure projects exist to begin the greening of the Sahel.
East Africa’s Food Supply at Risk
A swarm of these deadly locusts can reach several billion, covering an area of 200 by 120 kilometers. Each locust consumes its weight daily in food-2grams, resulting in a loss of hundreds of thousands of tons of food meant to feed the population. According to the United Nations’ (FAO), “each square kilometer of swarm can include 40 to 80 million locusts and eat as much food as 35,000 people.”
The swarms are active in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, and have spread to Uganda, and South Sudan. It is estimated that 11 million people are already considered food insecure in this region of Africa. According to the U.N., this new invasion of locust swarms could cause food insecurity to an additional 20 million Africans. The UN reports that the swarms are the largest that Somalia, and Ethiopia have experienced in a quarter of a century. Kenya has not faced this severe of an incursion in 70 years. Somalia has declared a national emergency, in response to the Desert Locust invasion, as has Pakistan. Already, 71,000 acres of farmland in Ethiopia and Somalia have been destroyed.
Keith Cressman, senior forecaster for the FAO, reported that the swarms have moved across the border into Tanzania and Uganda. He said: “Action taken in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya – as well as Pakistan – will now determine what happens next. If the current upsurge crosses more borders and infests more regions, devastating more crops, it could be declared a ‘plague’.”
The Uganda government has responded appropriately to the threat to their food supply by deploying the military to assist in spraying of pesticides.
Emergency Action Required
The U.N. has asked for $76 million in immediate aid. So far just under $20 million is in hand, including $10 million released from the U.N. emergency relief fund and $3.8 million from FAO. The United States originally agreed to contribute $800,000, and the European Union 1 million Euros. However, even with a pledge of $8 million to fight the locust incursion, announced by Secretary of State, Mike Pampeo during his recent visit to Ethiopia, the total is barely more than a third of the funds requested. The international community is being dangerously shortsighted, if not morally criminal, by allowing the locust swarms to exacerbate existing food shortages.
Dominique Burgeon, the FAO’s emergency and resilience director warned that without aerial spraying the current surge can turn into a plague, “and when you have a plague, it takes years to control.” Mark Lowcock, the UN’s top humanitarian official, told ambassadors at a UN briefing last week: “We are running out of time. We do have a chance to nip this problem in the bud, but that’s not what we are doing at the moment.”
It is imperative the aerial and ground spraying be expanded immediately, and all necessary resources be provided. African nations lack the adequate number of planes necessary, most having less than a handful that can be deployed to combat the swarm. According to The New Humanitarian, the five planes that Kenya deployed to break up the swarms initially faced a shortage of the insecticide, fenitrothion. They report that the Deputy Minister of Agriculture for Somalia, Maud Ali Hassan said, “We are lacking all resources, including the expertise to prevent a humanitarian disaster.”
In addition to the full complement of aerial and ground spraying that must include a sufficient number of planes, insecticide, and four wheel drive vehicles to reach remote areas, which the locust infected nations lack, Cressman raises the possible deployment of drone technology.
Ultra Low Volume spraying with insecticides produces a mist with droplets that has proved effective in killing this deadly pest.
In his article, Preventing the spread of desert locust swarms, Cressman writes: “The operational use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – also known as drones – could potentially overcome these limitations in many affected nations. In the field, UAVs could be used to automatically collect high-resolution imagery of green, vegetated areas potentially affected by locusts”
Civilian satellite imaging is being employed. However, advanced imagery is needed to locate more precisely infested and breeding areas. This requires that African nations have access to imagery from military satellites, which would also necessitate that their technicians be properly trained to interpret the data.
The application of electron magnetic pulses and other electromagnetic devices to emit tuned frequencies specifically aimed at killing the locusts should also be utilized in this war against these lethal pests.
An all-out war against the spread of locusts, using all available technologies is required to save the food supply of African nations already suffering from nutrition deficiency. The cost cannot be a factor for inaction. Whether it is $80 million, $100 million or several hundred million dollars: this is a small price to pay to prevent another plague. Compare this relatively minor cost to the obscene amounts of money-billions of dollars-being spent on the US Presidential primaries. The Desert Locust assault on humanity can be arrested, if we act now, with full force!
Transform the Desert
Desert Locusts “are always present somewhere in the deserts between Mauritania and India…ready to mate when conditions are favorable. Eggs are usually laid in areas of bare sandy soil and require previous rainfall,” according to the report, Weather and Desert Locusts.
Since the sands, dry heat, and winds of African deserts create propitious conditions for the breeding and migration of desert locust, why not eliminate-i.e. transform the desert?
Contrary to popular beliefs, the Sahel and Sahara Deserts are not the natural-pristine state of North Africa. The desert was created millions of years ago when the African Plate migrated north, cut off the Tethys Sea and crashed into what is now known as Europe. The Sahara Desert was originally under water. The Sahara also alters itself, from three million square miles of arid sand into a tropical climate with lush vegetation, and waters filled with whales, and hippopotami. This occurs every 20-25,000 years in accordance with the cycle of rotation of our planet’s axis, known as the earth’s wobble. Given that the most recent drying up of the Sahara occurred approximately 5,500 years ago, the rains are not expected to return for another 15-20,000 years. However, we cannot afford to sit by idly for thousands of years suffering the harsh conditions of the desert.
Humankind was fashioned to intervene on our universe, to improve its condition, to enhance the biosphere in which we exist. The concept of the physical universe, that includes the lawful intervention of human creativity, was conceived as the “Noosphere” by the great Ukrainian geologist and scientist of the twentieth century, Vladimir Vernadsky.
The Sahara Desert has been an impediment for Africa’s development throughout hundreds of thousands of years. More recently, this uninhibited desolate expanse of land has become home to numerous violent extremist organizations that have challenged the sovereignty of Mali, and Nigeria’s Borno State. Military only responses have so far failed to dislodge the terrorists from his region.
Think Big, Bold and in the Future
The physical universe is organized to respond to “noetic” intervention, i.e. humankind’s powers of reason. We should not be sitting on the sidelines watching disasters occur, but rather preventing so called natural catastrophes.
With sufficient density of infrastructure, functioning farms, towns, and cities, can replace mountains of desert sand. Deserts have been conquered in other parts of the world. An East-West railroad across sub-Saharan Africa from the Indian to Atlantic Ocean, which should have been built decades ago, would have already modified the Sahel and Sahara. It would be accompanied by a new platform of energy, trade, and industry that would revolutionize the economies of East and West Africa. A rail link across the Sahara, connecting this newly built East-West railroad to the nations of the Maghreb, and ultimately to Europe, would join the economies of the sub-continent to those of the Eurasian land mass. Sand would be supplanted by concrete and steel.
The desert can be converted into arable land by introducing moisture to this arid territory. Once there is continual penetration of water into the sand, vegetation and growth will occur, eventually altering transpiration cycles. This will cause a change in the volume, and patterns of rainfall. Tree transpiration is the process by which water is carried through the tree from the roots to small pores on the underside of leaves and released into the atmosphere by evaporation. Trees consuming carbon dioxide and releasing moisture and oxygen, are the “best friends” of human beings and the environment.
Transaqua, a transnational infrastructure project to replenish the shrinking Sahelian Lake Chad to its previous area of 25,000 square kilometers, has been endorsed by the Nigerian government, and is awaiting a feasibility study. Expanding Lake Chad with an annual flow of billions of cubic meters of water would affect climatic conditions across the Lake Chad Basin, and increase transpiration.
It is also necessary to aggressively move forward with the Pan African Great Green Wall Project (PAGGW), which focuses on greening a strip of land of 15 km. wide and about 8,000 km. long that will affect 20 nations including Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan. PAGGW was adopted by the African Union in 2007 and ratified by member countries in 2010.
Another transnational infrastructure project that complements the Great Green Wall is the Trans Africa Pipeline (TAP). It is the first permanent solution to end devastating drought and increasing desertification across the Sahel region of northern Africa.
TAP is an 8,000 km. long freshwater pipeline that will provide clean, potable drinking water to 28-30 million people in 11 countries of the African Sahel. TAP will construct large-scale desalination plants on the west and east coasts of Africa. Regional tank farms and pumping stations for water storage and distribution would cross the Sahel for the management of the water source, which in turn can create upwards of 280,000 jobs across the Sahel.
The Trans Africa Water Pipeline has an agreement with the Pan African Great Green Wall Initiative, and both together can address 14 of the Sustainable Development Goals, but all member states and relevant stakeholders are needed to bring both projects to fruition.
We cannot impotently watch a pest, a mere insect, damage our human environment, when we have the means to defeat it.
Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com
Below are excerpts from an interview with RT TV on the recent agreement between the U.S. and Niger to allow armed drone missions in the Sahel.
Africa affairs analyst Lawrence K Freeman says that drone strikes alone will be unlikely to change the region’s jihadist landscape, which is being driven by more than just a handful of key operatives.
“So, this is a big problem for the Niger government, for West Africa, and for all of Africa – [that Niger] is now allowing the US to carry out these kind of military attacks,” Freeman told RT. “What is missing from this, is a strategy.
“There has not been a strategy now for many, many years through several presidential administrations, including the current one.”
“The thinking in Washington is that by taking out key figures in the terrorist chain of command, this will help bring down the whole network. This approach has worked against some militant groups in the past but is unlikely to work here, Freeman said.
“The Sahara Desert itself, which goes all the way up to the Mediterranean, this is larger than the US. The Sahel desert stretches from the east end to the end of Africa. It is impossible to patrol all these areas. Therefore, you might pick off a few people here and there, which is useful, but you’re not going to stop the problem of terrorism.”
“If you take northern Mali, Niger, Chad – I have been in Chad, I have been in northern Nigeria – these places are totally undeveloped. Therefore, they are perfect further bases for Boko Haram, for al-Qaeda, for ISIS (Islamic State) and others to operate, recruit and establish bases.