INDEX (stories follow)
- Yemen Fighting Continues, 15 Dead in Overnight Clashes
- Gaddafi’s Oil Minister Defects over “Unbearable” Conflict
- Fearing Passage, House GOP Postpones Vote to Halt Libya Bombing
- Obama Admin Rebuffs Karzai Plea to Halt Deadly Raids
- Dozens Killed in Cross-Border Militant Attack in Pakistan
- Bahraini Gov’t Forces Attack Protesters After Lifting Martial Law
- Mubarak to Stand Trial in August
- U.S. to Boycott U.N. Racism Conference
- New York Demands New Environmental Impact Study on Fracking
- New York Suspends Role in “Secure Communities” Program
- Arizonans Seeks Recall of State Senator Behind Anti-Immigrant Law
- Florida Law Forces Drug Testing on Welfare Recipients
- Palestinians Mark First Anniversary of Israeli Flotilla Attack
- IAEA: Japan Downplayed Tsunami, Nuclear Damage
- Honduras Readmitted to OAS
- 4 Killed in Massachusetts Tornadoes
The struggles continued on Wednesday and Thursday. In Yemen, the capital of Sanaa continued its fall into a civil war between security forces loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh and members of the Hashed tribe loyal to opposition leader Sadiq al-Ahmar. Explosions and gunfire rocked the city, as other urban areas, especially Taizz, where government forces had fired on protesters, remained restive.
Yemen is important to the West because of its commanding position at the mouth of the Red Sea (10 percent of world trade goes through the Suez Canal) and because its government had been an ally in the fight against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has 300 or so fighters in the southern Ma’rib Province of Yemen. Yemen’s security also affects that of neighboring Saudi Arabia, which produces 11 percent of daily world petroleum output. The protest movement against Saleh has a Muslim tinge in some instances, but for the most part is regional, tribal or age-based (as elsewhere, the youth movement is important).
It is emerging that Syrian security forces killed 41 persons in the city of Rastan by shelling it, in the face of protests, on Tuesday. The news breaks from Syria, which has imposed a press blackout, as a united coalition of secular and religious opposition Syrian leaders met in Antalya in Turkey. They regime is also attempting to deal with widespread outrage over allegations that it tortured, mutilated and murdered a 13-year-old boy.
President Bashar al-Asad had offered an amnesty to protest leaders on Tuesday on condition they cease roiling the country, but the offer was rejected by the opposition.
Syria is important to the US as a major country abutting the Eastern Mediterranean, neighboring NATO ally Turkey, as well as non-NATO allies Jordan and Israel. It also shares a border with Lebanon and with Iraq. It is central to the Palestinian-Israeli struggle and had been part of Turkey’s hopes for a big expansion of regional trade in the Middle East. The Damascus regime is allied with Iran and so is on the wrong side of the geopolitical divide in the region from an American, Israeli and Saudi point of view. The one-party, authoritarian Baath Party has ruled with an iron fist for decades.
In Libya, oil minister Shukri Ghanem was confirmed to have defected from the Qaddafi regime in Tripoli days after several senior military officers had done so. Fighting in a western suburb near Misrata calmed down, as Free Libya forces retained control of that major Western city. Fighting continued in nearby Zlitan, which lies between Misrata and the capital, and in the Western Mountain region, where Free Libya forces said they had taken a provincial city where the regional electricity generating plant was located. A UN-authorized NATO and Arab League air contingent extended its bombing campaign, hitting the capital of Tripoli again on Wednesday, as the regime continued to defy a Security Council order to cease attacking its population. Meanwhile, a UN commission found that the Libyan regime has committed war crimes and has attacked civilian non-combatants. It also found evidence of war crimes on the rebel side, though not of attacks on non-combatants.
Qaddafi forces are suspected in a car-bombing of a hotel full of foreigners in Benghazi, which, however, did not kill anyone:
As the state of emergency ended in Bahrain, a small demonstration was held in the Shiite village of Diraz near the capital, which was dispersed by the king’s troops, using tear gas. It is not clear why protesters should not be allowed to demonstrate peacefully in Diraz if there is no state of emergency. The small island kingdom of Bahrain, with a citizen population of roughly 600,000, produces only a small amount of petroleum, but is the HQ of the US Fifth Fleet. Its citizen population is roughly 60 percent Shiite, though it would be more if the Sunni monarchy had not handed out Bahraini citizenship to tens of thousands of foreign Sunnis. The ruling Al Khalifa has a ‘thing’ about Shiites and sees the protest movement, which had included small Sunni parties wanting more civil liberties, as a mere Iranian conspiracy (not so).
For instance, they are training female soldiers for the fight against the Qaddafi brigades:
Women guerrillas are not new in the Arab world, and women played important roles in the Algerian war of liberation (1954-1962) and in the Palestinian movements.
The pro-Free Libya newspaper Birniq is reporting that forces in the Western Mountain area have inflicted a decisive defeat on the Qaddafi brigades that had been besieging those cities. It says that Free Libya fighters put Qaddafi brigades to flight, capturing an astonishing quantity of weapons and chasing them away, and so liberated cities such as Zintan, Nalut and Rahibat. They say they are giving chase and continue to engage the Qaddafi brigades as the latter head north toward the Mediterranean. The towns of the Western Mountain region have been under siege for nearly three months, subjected to shelling by tanks, artillery and Grad rockets.
feb17voices Feb 17 voices at Twitter confirms,
‘LPC #Yefren: Rebels are currently clearing Yefren city center & the area of Zimla, checking for remaining Gaddafi forces #libya #feb17 ‘
‘ LPC #Jadu: Caller says, the road leading to #Yefren from the foot of the mountains is mostly clear, but there are still risks #libya #feb17
The next town the National Transitional Council would have to take is Brega, to the northwest of the current border of Ajdabiya between Free Libya territory and Qaddafi-held towns. Much of Libya’s oil wealth is in the Brega Basin. Perhaps in preparation for another push west by the TNC forces, NATO bombed a command and control center at Brega on Thursday, using Apache attack helicopters, according to Aljazeera Arabic.
Meanwhile, Major General Umar al-Hariri, now a commander of the Free Libya forces but originally one of the young officers who helped Qaddafi make his 1969 coup, has told a pan-Arab newspaper that he believes that 60% of Qaddafi’s arms have been destroyed by NATO. He also called Egypt a key ally of the revolutionaries. The USG Open Source Center translates the interview from al-Sharq Al-Awsat:
‘ Libyan Rebels’ Military Chief on Situation, NATO Strikes, Al-Qadhafi’s Demise: Interview with Major General Umar al-Hariri…”
Al-Sharq al-Awsat Online
Wednesday, June 1, 2011 …
Document Type: OSC Translated Text…
(Mahmud) How do you describe the current military situation in Libya?
(Al-Hariri) It is good. There are several fronts and the situations in them are good. We hope that this stage will not be long. We have a good situation in Ajdabiya, Misratah, Al-Jabal al-Gharbi, and Al-Zintan. All the areas are in the stage of struggle. It is true that it is bitter but it will lead to victory.
(Mahmud) When will the ruling regime in Tripoli fall?
(Al-Hariri) I wish it falls today before tomorrow. This depends primarily on the international pressure. We too are exerting military pressure on the ground as armed forces. It is not going to take long.
(Mahmud) Will it end within weeks or just days?
(Al-Hariri) I do not know. Will it fall after weeks or months? Only God knows. This is war and it has its ups and downs. What I wish is that the war will not last longer than one month and it could be less. The noose around him (Al-Qadhafi) is tightening and the only place left for him is Tripoli and Al-Aziziyah which is coming under heavy bombardment. He is now moving from one place to another…
(Mahmud) But Al-Qadhafi still has forces?
(Al-Hariri) NATO said before two months “we have destroyed 30 percent of Al-Qadhafi’s forces.” The truth is that all the forces were assembled in the western area and there is now a concentration on (certain) areas. I believe that more than 60 percent of Al-Qadhafi’s forces have been destroyed. More important is the breaking of his soldiers’ morale and making them run away. Most of them are mercenaries…
(Mahmud) In your opinion, why did Al-Qadhafi built such a fortified wall [at Aziziyah] ?
(Al-Hariri) All that he was concerned about was to survive.
(Mahmud) Was he preparing for such a day?
(Al-Hariri) He might have been preparing for such a day. He used the Libyan people’s entire resources for two things: “His protection and defense.” He had advisers from foreign countries, such as for example the former East Germany. His personal safety was his most important thing. The walls are four meters high in addition to their thickness…
(Mahmud) Is the situation now at the threshold of bringing in land troops following Britain’s signal that helicopters would be used?
(Al-Hariri) UN Security Council Resolution 1973 does not stipulate the entry of land forces into Libya. We reject this. But he (Al-Qadhafi) is seeking to have land forces enter so as to appear before the world as a hero. He only cares about himself and has always liked to appear as a hero. The option is absolutely out of question. Al-Qadhafi’s tanks are near Misratah and we are capable of liberating our homeland but will not accept the landing of land forces in Libya.
(Mahmud) Al-Qadhafi relied for 42 years on the 1 st September revolution’s legitimacy. Do you regret helping him then to seize power?
(Al-Hariri) I do. At first, we had objectives. We were young and lived under the shadow of (late Egyptian President Jamal) Abd-al-Nasir at that time. Our objective was to liberate the Libyan bases. As officers, we carried out the revolution. Some are accusing us of harming the Libyan people. Reform was our intention but this did not happen as we had wanted. We might also be accused of bringing this man to power. But it is fate. I only got my freed om on 17 February and therefore say my age is only three months, which is the age of the revolution. An age under injustice and repression is not an age…
(Mahmud) Why is the world refusing to arm you?
(Al-Hariri) We asked (for this) from fraternal Arab and other countries but they refused on the pretext that these weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists. Al-Qadhafi claimed Al-Qa’ida (organization’s) leader is in Libya. The Americans confirmed that this was not true yet they did not believe us because there is a clause in the UN law banning weapons from both sides.
(Mahmud) If you succeed in concluding a deal, would NATO let them in?
(Al-Hariri) I do not think so on the pretext that the UNSC resolution does not permit armament except in some way. Al-Qadhafi is trying to get weapons through Algeria.
(Mahmud) Why there are always accusations that Algeria is providing Al-Qadhafi with weapons?
(Al-Hariri) Our accusation is not baseless. The Libyan people took a big stand with Algeria when we transported weapons for them from Egypt. I am amazed by its support for Al-Qadhafi. There might be a personal explanation. They fear the opposition. But I recall that the Tunisian chief of staff asserted that the Tunisian revolution will illuminate the entire Arab world, Algeria, and many others. I said many times the Arabs are cursed by the seats (of power). This tide will not stop after what happened in Tunisia and Egypt and the Arab people are in a permanent revolution.
(Mahmud) How do you see Egypt’s stand?
(Al-Hariri) Egypt is the mother and the large receptacle.
(Mahmud) This is more a diplomatic answer than a factual one?
(Al-Hariri) Egypt is always with us. There is a group that has some opinion. Al-Qadhafi is a savage and stupid person who does not refrain from saying anything. It is its right to fear for its nationals. We ask ourselves but appreciate its conditions and situations as it opens its borders with us fully. For example, we would not have reached Greece without much difficulty were it not for Egypt. I am certain that this stand is going to be better very soon. We do not fear for Egypt or fear it. We have a common and good history. ‘
“A Country of Dark Corners”: Freed Journalist Dorothy Parvaz on Her Syrian Detention and the Assad Regime Crackdown
The Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies has an advisory board, which is weirdly composed of a lot of white folks (Joshua Landis, whom I have issues with), and Patrick Seale….and Ammar Abdulhammid. Perhaps I’m being too picky or reading into things, but there are so many dirty forces at work here and we (the Syrian public) don’t really have any true representative for the people (other than of course, the people demonstrating). I hope to hear your thoughts.” (thanks Yazan)
The Wifaq Party, the biggest movement among the Arab Shiites of Bahrain, had asked for the country to move to being a constitutional monarchy. The repression was so heavy-handed that Wifaq members of the lower house (who held 18 out of 40 seats) have all resigned. When ordinary democratic political involvement is blocked, people turn to other ways of achieving their goals. Pushing the Shiite majority toward radicalism is a bad idea indeed. The Sunni hard liners in Bahrain see the Shiite majority a s cat’s paws of Shiite Iran. But Bahrain Shiites are mostly Arab, not Persian as in Iran. And a majority follows the Akhbari school of Shiism, which does not teach blind obedience (taqlid) to the ayatollahs. A small group of Shiite activists, al-Haqq, did call for a republic, but they were not in the mainstream of the reform movement, which mostly simply sought a rule of law and a more fair place for the Shiite majority.
The state has refused to allow its population the right of peaceable assembly and even petitioning the government has become dangerous. It is bad for the US to be seen to be uncaring in the face of the monarchy’s actions, which have left hundreds injured or imprisoned. Criticizing the government has been made illegal.Recently the secret police have begun going after women activists, according to NPR
Even a Jewish-American diplomat has been hounded out of the country with thuggish tactics (the whereabouts of his house, wife and children were broadcast with the implication that he be made the scapegoat for resentments against Obama’s mild criticism of the vicious crackdown).
The HQ of the US Fifth Fleet is at Manama, the capital of Bahrain. But there are other places such a naval base could be sited in the Gulf, including in Qatar.
Given the sentiments in President Obama’s recent speeches and his pledge to put the US on the side of reform in the region, it is ghoulish for the US to retain a major military facility in a country that has behaved as Bahrain has.
Moreover, the idea that the Grand Prix Formula 1 race might now return to Bahrain, after 28 people were killed for standing in Pearl Square, and after hundreds have been arrested and put in stress positions, after mosques have been destroyed, etc.– that idea is obscene and should provoke consumer boycotts if it happens. (Bahrain has become associated with racing in the European and American mind to the extent that artist Andreas Gursky took it as a theme for his
painting photograph, “Bahrain,” which I once saw at the Met in NYC.)
Pentagon Readies Cyber Weapons as Part of U.S. Arsenal, Considers Foreign Cyber Attack as Act of War
The Pentagon has developed a list of cyber-weapons and tools, including viruses that can sabotage an adversary’s critical networks, to streamline how the United States engages in computer warfare.
The classified list of capabilities has been in use for several months and has been approved by other agencies, including the CIA, said military officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a sensitive program. The list forms part of the Pentagon’s set of approved weapons or “fires” that can be employed against an enemy.
“So whether it’s a tank, an M-16 or a computer virus, it’s going to follow the same rules so that we can understand how to employ it, when you can use it, when you can’t, what you can and can’t use,” a senior military official said.
The integration of cyber-technologies into a formal structure of approved capabilities is perhaps the most significant operational development in military cyber-doctrine in years, the senior military official said.
And lest you worry your silly little head about how and when we will cause failures of massive Chinese dams or Iranian nuclear plants, potentially killing tens or hundreds of thousands, you needn’t. Our president has it all under control:
The framework clarifies, for instance, that the military needs presidential authorization to penetrate a foreign computer network and leave a cyber-virus that can be activated later…
Under the new framework, the use of a weapon such as Stuxnet could occur only if the president granted approval, even if it were used during a state of hostilities, military officials said. The use of any cyber-weapon would have to be proportional to the threat, not inflict undue collateral damage and avoid civilian casualties.
So the Stuxnet worm, which the NY Times portrayed as likely having been developed in close collaboration with Israel, would need approval of the president before it was deployed. That’s supposed to comfort us when the president might be someone like George Bush? And given Obama’s enthusiasm for targeted assassinations why should we not assume he knew, and approved of Stuxnet wreaking havoc within Iran’s nuclear facilities? Yes, Stuxnet appears not to have killed anyone. But where is the line between cyber weapons that kill and those that don’t? And how can you guarantee that you don’t cross that line (if indeed you don’t want to…which raises another question)? How do you guarantee that Stuxnet only disabled a nuclear plant and doesn’t cause a Fukushima-style core meltdown with concomitant civilian exposure to massive levels of radioactivity?
It is only slightly encouraging that this new strategic doctrine emphasizes the use of cyber-methods largely for defensive purposes. But who’s to define what is defensive and what is offensive? Is disabling Iran’s Natanz and Bushehr plants defensive? Clearly, the U.S. thinks so or it wouldn’t have participated in the project. But what if the worm had killed Iranians? What then? Do we argue that slightly delaying the date by which Iran gets a nuclear weapon (if they are trying to make one) is a defensive act that justifies killing or injuring Iranians, if any are harmed?
The NY Times takes a markedly different approach to the same story. It reports the Pentagon is readying a new military doctrine which will declare any cyber attack against the U.S. which endangers the lives of civilians to be an act of war:
The Pentagon, trying to create a formal strategy to deter cyberattacks on the United States, plans to issue a new strategy soon declaring that a computer attack from a foreign nation can be considered an act of war that may result in a military response.
Several administration officials…have suggested publicly that any American president could consider a variety of responses — economic sanctions, retaliatory cyberattacks or a military strike — if critical American computer systems were ever attacked…
The new military strategy…makes explicit that a cyberattack could be considered equivalent to a more traditional act of war. The Pentagon is declaring that any computer attack that threatens widespread civilian casualties — for example, by cutting off power supplies or bringing down hospitals and emergency-responder networks — could be treated as an act of aggression.
Which raises an interesting question. Clearly, the Stuxnet attack, if perpetrated here, would be considered an act of aggression to which the U.S. might respond militarily. If that’s so, then would Iran be justified attacking Israel for its involvement? And just how do you prove that a specific country mounted such an attack against you? What level of certainty do you need?
Of course, we would not countenance an Iranian attack against Israel for giving it the “gift” of Stuxnet, which is why Iran has not retaliated (yet). So this means that there are two sets of rules operating concerning cyber-warfare: one set is for the big guys like us and another is for the littler, less powerful fellas like Iran. Hit us and we’ll knock you to Kingdom Come (if we can). Hit Iran, well not so much. How do you spell h-y-p-o-c-r-i-s-y?
- Cyber combat: act of war (warincontext.org)
- Security Experts: Possible Israeli Cyber Attack Sabotaged Iran’s Bushehr Reactor Though the Stuxnet cyber-attack which likely targeted Iran’s nuclear facilities…
- Israeli Rightist Cyber-Vandals Take Down New Israel Fund Site in DoS Attack It appears that DoS attacks are a new weapon of…
- Shabak Modifies Abu Seesi Gag, Extraordinary Rendition as Act of War (By Other Means) Against Hamas and Gaza? Thanks to a major AP story breaking the Dirar Abu…
Seymour Hersh, longtime and well regarded investigative journalist, has a new piece in The New Yorker about Iran. From the online teaser Abstract (subscription or print edition required for full article; my emphasis, elision, and paragraphing):
Iran and the Bomb
How real is the nuclear threat?
ABSTRACT: … Is Iran actively trying to develop nuclear weapons? Members of the Obama Administration often talk as if this were a foregone conclusion, as did their predecessors under George W. Bush.
There’s a large body of evidence, however, including some of America’s most highly classified intelligence assessments, suggesting that the U.S. could be in danger of repeating a mistake similar to the one made with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq eight years ago—allowing anxieties about the policies of a tyrannical regime to distort our estimates of the state’s military capacities and intentions.
The two most recent National Intelligence Estimates (N.I.E.s) on Iranian nuclear progress have stated that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran has made any effort to build the bomb since 2003. …
Obama has been prudent in his public warnings about the consequences of an Iranian bomb, but he and others in his Administration have often overstated the available intelligence about Iranian intentions. …
Israel views Iran as an existential threat. Nevertheless, most Israeli experts on nonproliferation agree that Iran does not now have a nuclear weapon. … In his recent interview, [Mohamed ElBaradei, a recent director-general of the I.A.E.A.] said, “I don’t believe Iran is a clear and present danger. All I see is the hype about the threat posed by Iran.”
I’ve seen reporting like this for years, going back to Cheney’s Bush II second-term push to drive us to war against them — the push for bombing, the appeal to manly posturing, which papers over all lack of evidence that Iran even has a program, much less a bomb. Cheney almost got us there, in my view; he did get Fallon fired.
In the face of this lack of evidence, the hawks have (1) insisted that their critics prove a negative, (2) tried to dominate the press with their single-minded point of view, and (3) tarred its opponents as unmanly, loony, or (in ElBaradei’s case) pro-Muslim. Evidence to the contrary can grab its hat and go home. On the press front (2 and 3 above) I think the hawks have succeeded.
This really matters. It would change the world. If we get this one wrong, we’ll be at war with someone who can bring the war back to us, to our Midwestern towns and suburban malls. The population of Iran is more than double that of Iraq (Iran is the 17th most populous nation on Earth). It has four times the GDP of Iraq. It’s not peopled by tribesmen and sheepherders alone, but contains a great many urbanized professionals.
Iran is a society that, if pushed to war against the West, will go. The secret services in Iran include groups like the Revolutionary Guard and the paramilitary Basij. The last two groups alone are more than 200,000 strong. Ugly as they are in that spy-vs-spy way (are we more pretty?), they could easily bring the global war to our cities as a regular feature. Imagine Omaha or Moline getting the Tel Aviv treatment. There are lots of Molines. Is that a world you’d choose to live in?
Imagine the oil shocks after sabotage bombings in the Persian Gulf. Imagine oil priced in euros on an Iranian bourse. Imagine security checkpoints in every mall in America after the first couple of bombings. Imagine the eager, muscular overreaction of our national security protectors. Imagine the budget for war on steroids.
And please, let’s not imagine that if the Israelis bomb Iran for us, that we won’t be blamed. If you were Iran, would you not strike at the source first, and the client after? We struck at Al Qaeda by taking down Kabul.
So what is Obama’s response to the article? A campaign in Politico sourced to “senior Administration officials” who say, in effect, “We think he’s wrong, and you can’t use our names. Just type it as we say it.” The article’s lead sentence announces (h/t Glenn Greenwald):
[T]he Obama administration is pushing back strongly, with one senior official saying the article garnered “a collective eye roll” from the White House.
They’re giving Sy Hersh the Noam Chomsky treatment. Loony.
The Politico person assigned to this task is a staff writer named Jennifer Epstein, a 2008 graduate of Princeton. She’s recently been writing about pro-profit colleges (which we cover here). Epstein needs to be careful — she could end up with a reputation as a stenographer.
You think this is weird! The 1960s counterinsurgency expert, Robert Thompson (who had served the British empire in Malaya, and who advised Kennedy, and who was one of the forefathers of strateic hamelts in VN) actually has a quote somewhere about how the best measure of the success of counterinsurgency is how smiley the natives are when a British colonial administrator goes into their village. Similarly, archival documents from Malaya show that British colonial/civilian administrators in malaya were worried about the flood of British Palestine Policement to Malaya after 1948, because they said, these Palestine Policemen are used to dealing with sullen Arabs, whereas the Malays are supposed to be good-natured and smiley. There is an entire colonial discourse around the “sullen” native, and the happy-go-lucky acquiescent or collaborating native.”
Despite the global outrage, Robert Mugabe’s land reforms have had some successes and are boosting trade
Ten years ago large areas of Zimbabwe’s commercial farmland were invaded by land-hungry villagers, led by war veterans and backed by President Robert Mugabe. The Zimbabwe supreme court ruled the land reform programme illegal, and since then images of chaos, destruction and violence have dominated global coverage.
But as Zimbabwe moves forward with a new agrarian system, a more balanced appraisal is now needed for the process that overturned a century-old pattern of land use dominated by a small group of large-scale commercial farmers. This means listening to the results of solid, on-the-ground research.
In our 10-year study in Masvingo province, we examined what happened to people’s livelihoods. “We got good yields this year. I filled two granaries with sorghum. I hope to buy a grinding mill and locate it at my homestead.” These are the words of Samuel Mafongoya, a Masvingo farmer who was one of the many beneficiaries of the controversial land reform process. Not every story was as positive, of course. The hard evidence was complex and nuanced. But it also contradicted the overwhelmingly negative images of land reform presented in the media.
At independence in 1980, over 15m hectares were devoted to large-scale commercial farming by about 6,000 farmers, nearly all white. This fell to about 12m hectares by 1999, in part through a modest land reform and resettlement programme largely funded by the UK. Formal land reallocation since 2000 has resulted in the transfer of nearly 8m hectares to over 160,000 households, mostly are ordinary people from nearby areas. If the “informal” settlements outside the official programme are added, the totals are even larger.
This major restructuring has had knock-on consequences, and there have been heavy hits on certain commodities and markets: wheat, tobacco, coffee, tea and beef exports have all suffered. However, other crops and markets have weathered the storm, and some have boomed. Production of small grains and edible beans has increased dramatically compared with the 1990s, and cotton production too has gone up. True, there are major problems in certain areas, but agriculture has not collapsed.
In Masvingo, reform saw more than a quarter of the land taken over by around 32,500 households on smallholder sites, 1,200 households on slightly larger sites, and 8,500 households in informal resettlement sites. It has resulted in a new composition of people in the rural areas, with highly diverse livelihoods, based on mixed crop and livestock farming. Another resettlement farmer, Petros Chakavanda, told us: “We are not employed but we are getting higher incomes than those at work.”
In fact, our studies showed that over half of the 400 households sampled are accumulating and investing, often employing labour and increasing their farming operations. And their activity is having a positive impact on the wider economy, stimulating demand for services, consumer goods and labour.
Others were finding the going tough. Joining the land invasions and establishing new farms in what was often uncleared bush was not easy. It required commitment, courage and much hard work. It is true that some new farmers have made it due to political connections and patronage. Yet, despite their disproportionate influence on local politics, in Masvingo they make up less than 5% of households. Remember too that since 2000 these new settlers have received very little external support. The government was broke and often focused its efforts on a few of the elite. Meanwhile, aid organisations shied away from the resettlement areas for political reasons.
We do not want to underplay the abuses that took place or the challenges that transition brings. However, our research has dispelled the assumption that Zimbabwe’s controversial reform was “all bad”. Solid empirical evidence has challenged the myth that there is no investment, that agricultural production has collapsed and food insecurity is universal, that the rural economy is in precipitous decline, and that farm labour has been totally displaced. There are many challenges ahead, but we believe it is possible to define a positive, forward-looking agenda for the future.
• Some names have been changed. Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities, by Ian Scoones, Nelson Marongwe, Blasio Mavedzenge, Felix Murimbarimba, Jacob Mahenehene and Chrispen Sukume, is published by James Currey
Two things seem particularly noteworthy about the approval Wal-Mart won yesterday to acquire Massmart, a Johannesburg-based chain that operates across 13 African countries.
One is that, despite the ample publicity Wal-Mart has engineered for its “buy local” efforts, the company in fact has zero interest in cultivating local suppliers beyond stocking a few token local veggies suitable for a nice photo-op.
And two: even in countries where the law clearly states that the public interest must be protected in large mergers, global trade agreements give corporations the upper hand, or at least give government authorities an excuse to ignore their own laws.
In issuing its approval yesterday, South Africa’s Competition Tribunal, a quasi-judicial body charged with protecting the public interest in large corporate mergers, imposed only minimal conditions on the deal, stating that stronger requirements to protect local suppliers and labor rights “could violate the country’s trade obligations.”
Wal-Mart first raised the specter the World Trade Organization (WTO) during its closing arguments before the tribunal, which had just heard a week of testimony from unions, government officials, economists and others who built a compelling case that the merger should be subject to strict conditions or rejected altogether.
The strength of the opposition seemed to surprise Wal-Mart, which has not made a significant acquisition since it bought the British supermarket chain Asda in 1998.
South Africa’s robust trade unions, led by the Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers’ Union (CCAWU), which represents Massmart employees, had begun organizing to block the merger last fall, issuing a list of demands shortly after the deal became public.
The government departments of trade, agriculture and economic development also came out against the deal.
One of the pivotal issues concerned sourcing. Massmart currently buys 60 percent of its goods from South African manufacturers and farmers. Wal-Mart would supplant these networks of local production and trade with its own global supply chain, sending a flood of imported food and other goods into a country that already has 25 percent unemployment. A government-commissioned analysis concluded that every 1 percent shift from domestic to overseas suppliers by Massmart would cost the country 4,000 jobs.
Momentum began to build in favor of imposing a local procurement quota as a condition of the merger. But local sourcing is untenable to Wal-Mart. Although the company has orchestrated heaps of positive media by stocking a few items of local produce in its U.S. stores, what makes Wal-Mart Wal-Mart is its global supply chain. The company is not so much a retailer as a distributor. Its market power comes from its ability to acquire goods in one location and distribute them across the planet with a remarkable degree of precision and efficiency. If buying locally from South African producers became a condition of the merger, Wal-Mart would have to drop the deal.
Worried about losing Massmart and, with it, a launching pad for all of Africa, Wal-Mart in its closing arguments raised the threat of a WTO action if the Competition Tribunal pursued the sourcing condition. Although the question of global trade agreements had not surfaced in the debate before, it became a central theme of the media coverage during the tribunal’s final two weeks of deliberation.
Wal-Mart also offered a list of merger conditions that it told the tribunal it would be glad to comply with, including putting about $14 million into a “suppler development fund” to help South African producers learn how to become Wal-Mart suppliers. (The company is spending $2.4 billion to buy Massmart, which does about $7 billion in sales each year.)
The Competition Tribunal adopted Wal-Mart’s minimal conditions as its own and approved the deal with no other stipulations.
International expansion is critical for Wal-Mart, which has seen same-store sales in the U.S. decline for eight consecutive quarters. But while it has established a foothold in South America, Asia, Europe, and now Africa, Wal-Mart’s global ambitions have often fallen short of expectations. It pulled out of Germany and South Korea after losing billions of dollars. Its growth in China has been relatively weak given the size of the country, and Asda has yet to challenge Tesco’s dominance of the UK market.
South Africa’s tough and politically influential trade unions promise anything but smooth sailing for Wal-Mart’s entry into Africa. CCAWU says leaders will be meeting later this month to chart their next move, which could include disruptive protests, strikes and “the mother of all boycotts.”
Stacy Mitchell is a senior researcher with the New Rules Project, a program of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance that challenges the wisdom of economic consolidation and works to advance policies that build strong local economies. Stacy directs initiatives on community banking and independent retail. She is the author of Big-Box Swindle and produces a popular monthly bulletin called the Hometown Advantage.