Tag Archives | Africa

Why are we involved in UN peacekeeping?

The unasked question

Omair Ahmad’s article on the ugly business of Indian blue helmets in the Congo is titled “rotten olives”. He raises the most important point:

That shining reputation will be in tatters if the current charges of misconduct by Indian peacekeepers in the Congo are proved. The Indian government has assigned Lt Gen Rajinder Singh to investigate the charges, but nobody seems to be taking a look at the purpose of India’s role in UN peacekeeping operations today. Without a clear reason to be participating in such operations, India runs the risk of being lumped together with other developing nations who join these UN missions only for the money and perks. [Outlook]

It’s time for India to stop contributing troops to the UN.

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Pragati May 2008: Towards liberal nationalism

Issue 14 - Apr 2008

Issue Contents

PERSPECTIVE

Liberals, culture and nationalism Ravikiran S Rao
An opportunity exists for a new politics

Changing the broken wheel Raj Cherubal
The secular-right must champion economic freedom

Towards “that heaven of freedom” Gautam Bastian
A free nation of free citizens

Out of court Rohit Pradhan, Shashi Shekhar & Mukul Asher
Carry on the battle, but respect the court’s verdict

FILTER

India as a rising great power; climate change and national security; India-Iran relations; to the brink; and trade across the Line of Control

IN DEPTH

The new currency of power Nitin Pai & Aruna Urs
A discussion on strategic affairs with K Subrahmanyam

ROUNDUP

Use the Tibet card Zorawar Daulet Singh
To settle the India-China dispute

Consensus must endure Dinesh Wagle
Maoists have the upper hand in the construction of the republic

Bottom-up dynamics Sushant K Singh
What attracts Africa to India and how it can be strengthened

Pressed by inflation Gulzar Natarajan
Easing supply bottlenecks is the right way to go

BOOKS

Memories of 1971 Amardeep Singh
A review of Tahmima Anam’s A Golden Age

Read excerpts | Download

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Time to stop contributing troops to the UN

The shame in Congo

What the ‘BBC’ found in its investigation of UN peacekeeping operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo is deeply disturbing. The accusations are serious:

Indian peacekeepers operating around the town of Goma had direct dealings with the militia responsible for the Rwandan genocide, now living in eastern DR Congo.

The Indians traded gold, bought drugs from the militias and flew a UN helicopter into the Virunga National Park, where they exchanged ammunition for ivory.[‘BBC‘]

The Indian High Commission in London has reflexively tried to put a brave face over the allegations, pointing out that the offences are trivial, and that disciplinary action will be taken against those found guilty. But this is not the time for the defence ministry to merely go through the routine of setting up panels of inquiry and acting against errant personnel. This is the time for a wholesale re-evaluation of the entire policy of contributing troops to the UN.

The main draw of a UN peacekeeping posting for army personnel is the financial reward. The point that it exposes troops to real conflict environments is bogus: there are too many conflict environments on India’s borders, certainly enough to give the armed forces the desired combat experience.

It would have been quite acceptable to allow Indian soldiers to derive financial benefits if only the UN peacekeeping operations had anything like the discipline, quality control and governance that are the practice in the Indian armed forces. Poorly defined rules of engagement, unclear chains of command, a hodge-podge of equipment and personnel from assorted ‘developing countries’ and great power apathy have bred a culture that allows and covers up errant behaviour.

Needless to say, the armed forces must act to investigate and deal exemplary punishment to those found guilty—not just troops and their immediate officers, but their commanders up the hierarchy as well. The organisational challenge for the armed forces headquarters is to root out the culture of corruption that has seeped in from the UN engagement. Without a complete cleanup, the risk to national security is immense.

While it is too early to conclude that the Indian troops are guilty, the accusations are serious enough. India should immediately suspend all further deployments under the UN flag. This should be followed by a phased withdrawal of all Indian troops currently carrying out UN peacekeeping duties around the world. [See this post on Pragmatic Euphony]. Overseas troop deployments must be seen in the context of promoting the national interest. But that is not the case today. Contribution to UN peacekeeping contingents is not part of any broad strategy: it continues to be done because it is something that has always done (and those that have to do it see it in their interests).

Related Posts: Regarding the troops in Congo; get the troops out of Lebanon;

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The Indian difference in Africa

It’s about 53 countries, not one continent

It is, no doubt, a convenient shorthand to refer to “Africa policy”. But it is really about developing relations with over 50 countries that make up the African continent. There are signs that India is recognising this relatively better than other countries.

In an op-ed in Mint, Mukul Asher and Sushant Singh argue that the India and African countries should build “a long-haul developmental partnership, based on application of knowledge economy, development of human resources and deeper domestic linkages…(that will diversify) their global risks (and increase) their leverage in the global affairs.”

Excerpts:

India’s economic and strategic diplomacy towards Africa has been consistent. Many initiatives launched in the final years of the National Democratic Alliance government have not only continued but also flourished during the United Progressive Alliance regime.

India’s academic and research institutions, however, need to develop much greater understanding of individual African countries and broaden linkages with their counterparts in Africa. There is also an urgent need to create a larger pool of Indians in all spheres with familiarities with languages spoken in Africa. Such familiarity and empathy for Africa’s challenges can provide India with valuable competitive edge.

India’s economic model and its approach to engaging Africa is consistent with what former World Bank economist William Easterly, in his 2006 book The White Man’s Burden, called “searchers”. They, unlike “planners”, eschew global blueprints and seek to meet the demand of customers in a way that uses decentralized and customized approaches, while applying an existing stock of knowledge in a practical way to reduce resource costs and improve efficiency. [Mint]

Related Links: Wages of hyphenation; India in West Africa

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Weekday Squib: Chinese professors in Zimbabwe

Why there are always innocent explanations

Excerpt from Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Jiang Yu’s Regular Press Conference on April 22, 2008:

Q: According to reports, China is selling weapons to Zimbabwe. Could you confirm? If it’s true, why is China doing so? It is also reported that Chinese soldiers are seen on the streets of Zimbabwe. Could you give us more details about this?

A: According to my knowledge, COSCO was contracted by a Chinese company to deliver some weapons to Zimbabwe, which are part of the normal arms trade between China and Zimbabwe. The relevant contract was signed last year and has nothing to do with the latest developments inside Zimbabwe. As far as I know, it is universal practice to deliver goods to inland South African countries through the Port of Durban in South Africa. Since the Zimbabwe side could not receive the goods as scheduled, COSCO could not unload at Durban Port and is considering shipping back the goods.

I’d like to stress that the Chinese Government always adopts a prudent and responsible attitude towards arms export and one of the important principles it adheres to is non-interference in the internal affairs of recipient countries. We hope relevant side not to politicize this issue.

On your second question, according to my knowledge, several Chinese professors are teaching at Zimbabwean military schools. What you mentioned might be some teaching activities conducted by the schools. [FMPRC]

So the presence of Chinese soldiers “in their full military regalia and armed with pistols” in Mutare has an innocent explanation. It was a bunch of professors and their students on a field project, for their course on M401 Advanced Crowd Control.

But were an uppity journalist ask Mr Jiang what the professors were teaching, he’d perhaps say “agriculture”. Before you roll your eyes, dear readers, do note that he wouldn’t be wrong. Good agricultural techniques require farmers to, well, farm. Putting errant farmers in their place is an area of agricultural studies routinely ignored by scholars outside China.

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More Chinese guns for Mugabe

And military advisors too

The six containers full of small arms that China shipped to Zimbabwe are somewhere off the coast of Africa. Durban in South Africa, the original transit port, didn’t work out. Someone tipped off Noseweek, an appropriately named South African magazine, about the contents of the cargo on the Chinese ship An Yue Zhang, and hell began breaking lose. The transport workers union prevented their unloading. A local bishop got a court order restricting its movement. And a German bank, which is owed money by the Zimbabwean government, acquired a court order to seize the cargo.

Realising that things were getting rather sticky in Durban, the ship quietly slipped away (or “disappeared”), reportedly to Maputo, Mozambique. But Mozambique has refused to allow it into its waters, pointing out that it was bound for Luanda, Angola anyway. The United States officially entered the fray today and “American diplomats have been instructed to press authorities in at least four nations—South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Angola—not to allow it to dock”. The Bush administration intends to send a special envoy to the region this week. There are reports that a new consignment of arms will now be delivered by air instead.

China’s foreign ministry has been silent. That’s probably because it didn’t know much about the deal, or more likely, is unable to do anything about it. Poly Technologies Corporation (its Chinese phonetic, “Baoli”, means “to keep the profit”) is not only run by the People’s Liberation Army—its long-time chairman is Major-General He Ping, Deng Xiaoping’s son-in-law. The company sells arms to those who can pay for them, mainly “to keep the profit”. Pakistan’s Ghauri missiles are produced using technology sold by Poly. Why, Poly even tried to smuggle AK-47s to the United States in 1996. Zimbabwe is small beer.

Poly Technologies’ export consignment was hardly unusual—and almost certainly not illegal—but the timing couldn’t be worse. Robert Mugabe is using state machinery to suppress political opposition. China is facing an international public relations debacle with the Olympic torch and Tibet. It’s backing of the Sudanese regime had already attracted international opprobrium. To be caught selling six containers of small arms to yet another thuggish African dictator at this time…well, the folks in Beijing are living in interesting times.

But while the arms shipment itself is beginning to catch the world’s attention, a more disturbing revelation relates to the presence of “Chinese soldiers in their full military regalia and armed with pistols checking at the hotel (in Mutare, Zimbabwe’s third largest city)”. What were uniformed Chinese military personnel doing in Zimbabwe? Surely, the Chinese foreign ministry can’t repeat the old mantra about “non-interference in the internal affairs” of Zimbabwe?

It’s all so cold war. It’s also something that Africa can’t afford. As Hope, a Zimbabwean blogger at Sokanwele writes:

The unfortunate side-effect of the deep resentment is some xenophobia towards the new Chinese people, and our local Chinese population, who have lived in our country for years, suffer too. But at the end of the day I think – I hope – that those new traders are just like all human beings in the world, craving freedom and maybe seeing Zimbabwe, ironically, as a way to escape the lack of freedom in their own country. I think maybe we have something in common with them in that respect.

But if the Chinese government is actually sending in soldiers, and actively lending some level of military support – advice or otherwise – to Mugabe’s efforts to subvert democracy and cow the population, then their involvement must be exposed. [Sokanwele]

Everyone knows how hard it is to stop mass killings once they start. The prudent course of action for the international community is to suspend arms deliveries to Zimbabwe until the political crisis is sorted out. It is up to China whether it wants to be part of the solution.

Update: According to SIPRI Arms Transfers Database, China was Zimbabwe’s biggest arms supplier. Among the big ticket items it supplied 12 K-8 fighter planes at US$240 million between 2005 and 2006 (excludes small arms).

J Peter Pham has more details at World Defense Review

At a time when the thuggish regime of Robert Mugabe is universally shunned by the civilized world, not least for its crackdown on the political opposition, the PRC has literally handed Zimbabwe the tools of repression: PLA’s definition of “mil-to-mil” relations includes providing a radio-jamming device for a military base outside Harare that prevents independent stations from trying to contradict state-controlled media. As one statement from the Paris-based nongovernmental organization Reporters san frontières noted, “Thanks to support from China, which exports its repressive expertise, Robert Mugabe’s government has yet again just proved itself to be one of the most active predators of press freedom.” For Beijing’s military-industrial complex, however, it may just be a matter of “customer courtesy” for a very reliable client. In late 2004, Zimbabwe paid an estimated $200 million for twelve FC-1 fighter jets and 100 military vehicles. In 2005, it spent $245 million on a dozen K-8 light attack aircraft (the K-8 is the export version of the Hongdu JL-8 jointly developed by the PRC and Pakistan). Last year, for $120 million – an amount that could have fed the entire country for three months – Zimbabwe’s octogenarian president purchased six training aircraft for his air force from the China Nanchang Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation. [WDR, Jun 07]

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Guns for Mugabe

China sends some help

The An Yue Jiang, a ship belonging to China’s state-owned shipping company, has docked in the South African port city of Durban. It is carrying a cargo of “77 tonnes of small arms, including more than 3m rounds of ammunition, AK47 assault rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades”.

The cargo is bound for Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe is insisting on remaining president despite not winning the election. Violence has already broken out, and could get worse.

The Chinese foreign ministry has ducked for cover. The South African authorities have thrown up their hands saying—quite reasonably—that they can’t legally stop the shipment over land into Zimbabwe. But the South African transport workers union has refused to unload or move the containers.

Now Chinese soldiers have been reportedly been spotted in Zimbabwe (well, they were spotted in New Delhi too this week). It remains to be seen whether the next ship from China will arrive with enough trucks, truck-drivers and porters to deliver the arms shipment to Mr Mugabe.

Now there’s probably nothing illegitimate about selling arms to the Zimbabwean government. Just like there was probably nothing illegitimate in China selling the Rwandan government US$750,000 worth of machetes in 1993. Machetes, of course, didn’t carry out the subsequent genocide. Extremist Hutus did.

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Sunday Levity: An Iranian crore and other numbers

Do the differences count?

It turns out that the Iranians used the word crore in their old numbering system. But to denote 500,000. Was this the result of Iranians being shortchanged by a shifty Indian trader several centuries ago? We don’t know, but it turns out that the Iranians stopped using the term a few decades ago. (They finally realised they’ve been had?)

The Swahili speaking Africans still use the word laki to denote 100,000, a legacy of historical trading relations between India and East Africa.

Two more interesting asides about numbers. Shinji Takasugi has a wonderful site comparing the complexities of numbering systems of various cultures.

According to him, the simplest is Tongan, where you would say “4” “2” (fa ua) for the number that is the answer to life, the universe and everything. The most complex is Huli, a language spoken in Papua New Guinea (a country the size of a small Indian state, but with perhaps as much linguistic diversity as the whole of India). In the quindecimal (base-15 system) you’d have to say “the answer is ngui ki, ngui tebone-gonaga hombearia“, that is “(15 × 2) + (12 object of the 3rd 15)”. Mr Takasugi deems Hindi as the fourth most complex. That’s a little questionable, because though the names are slightly irregular, the pattern is not too hard to discern. The answer, as you know, is bayalees.

The Balkan-Romanis (popularly known as the Gypsies) count their numbers as jekh (yake), duj, trin, štar (char), panc (panch), šov (chov), eftá, oxtó, enjá, deš (dach) and biš (for 20). The answer according to them is saránda-te-duj. The Gypsies, being the impatient sort, must have left India after six, and made up the rest as they went along. [That doesn’t explain why they got des and bis, but this is a Sunday Levity post. It need not make sense]

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India’s foreign aid budget

More for Bhutan and Afghanistan, less for ‘other developing countries’

Here is a chart showing outlays for ‘technical and economic cooperation with other countries and advances to foreign governments’, allocated to the foreign ministry.

There are new allocations for Afghanistan, and an increase in allocations for Bhutan. There’s a modest increase for Sri Lanka and Africa. But allocations for ‘other developing countries’ (ODC in the chart above) have been cut. India appeared to have disbursed less that what was budgeted for Myanmar, and this year’s allocations are lower. There was an unplanned increase in assistance to Bangladesh last year—quite likely due to emergency assistance for flood relief—but the outlay this year is almost the same.

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Weekday Squib: Suicidal Donkeys

Indian Blue Helmets in Sudan have an asinine problem

Major Shambhu Saran Singh, posted at a UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan, wrote this in his report: “A donkey, who had decided to end his miserable and wretched life, ran towards the Nile. As he approached the banks, he plunged into the river and moved towards the current and the strong current of the mighty river swept it to a watery grave”. (via Bharat-Rakshak Forum).

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