Friday, January 27, 2012

New AU headquarters mark strong China-Africa ties - Times LIVE

Artist impression of the new African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa.

Towering above the Ethiopian capital, cloaked in urban smog, the new Chinese-built African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa is a bold symbol of China's rapidly changing role in Africa.

Once seen as strictly interested in extracting raw resources and investing in infrastructure, China has interests on the continent that are increasingly shifting to investing in institutions and governments, experts say.

"China has always been seen as less good at dealing with regions and continental bodies," said Alex Vines, Africa director of Britain's international affairs think-tank Chatham House.

"The building of the AU secretariat offsets that in a very dramatic fashion," he added.

Construction of the 99.9 metre-tall building was wholly funded by the Chinese government at a cost of $200 million. Even the furnishings were paid for by the Asian powerhouse, and most of the construction material was imported from China.

The sleek edifice -- Addis Ababa's tallest -- will host the African Union summit which gathers African heads of state this week.

The centre is set to be inaugurated on Saturday by Jia Qinglin, chairman of China's political advisory body the People's Political Consultative Conference.

The building symbolizes China's major stake in Africa -- bilateral trade between the Asian nation and the continent reached over $120 billion in 2011, a jump from less than $20 billion a decade earlier.

Beijing's involvement in Africa dates back 60 years, when Chinese workers arrived to lay railways tracks and roads.

But there has been a surge in investment in the past 15 years. Until recently, it focused mainly on bilateral relations. The new building suggests a push to foment multilateral links.

According to Vines, it is in China's best business interest to push for stability, especially in the wake of the Arab Spring which saw a collapse of governments across North Africa.

"It's a recalibration of how China sees Africa. I think the Arab Spring, in particular Libya, wasn't anticipated by China," he told AFP from London.

It is also a strategic move on the part of the AU to look outside of Africa and Europe for partnerships.

The death of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi has meant the loss of major funding for the often short-staffed pan-African bloc.

And China's investment in the AU stretches beyond the construction of the glimmering new AU building. Last December, China pledged $4.5 million to the AU's mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to fight Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents.

China is also a major contributor to United Nations peacekeeping missions in Somalia, Burundi and Sudan according to UK-based civil society group Saferworld.

China's ambassador to Ethiopia and the AU, Xie Xiaoyan, recently said his government's relationship with the AU serves as a central part of the China-Africa strategic partnership.

That partnership was formalized in 2001 with the launch of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, which convenes every three years. At the last gathering in 2009, China pledged $10 billion in loans to Africa.

But China views the AU as relatively toothless, according to political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University Jean-Pierre Cabestan.

"China has very good relations with the African Union but ... it knows that the African Union is relatively powerless and finds it difficult to make decisions," he told AFP in Beijing.

Construction of the new headquarters kicked off in January 2009, and a team of up to 1200 Chinese and Ethiopian workers laboured around the clock in two or three shifts to finish it on schedule.

The site boasts three conference centres, a helipad and office space for 700 people. A bronze statue of pan-African leader Kwame Nkrumah, former president of Ghana, is slated to be unveiled this week.

Project coordinator Fantalun Michael said the new building allows the AU to host major international events and represents Africa's modernizing image. It also signifies China's growing friendship with Africa, he said.

"It's a testimony that this relationship will continue in the future," he said.

But that bond will depend largely on diplomatic relations between China and Africa, not simply on Chinese-built infrastructure, according to Vines.

"In 10 years' time, will there be a fuzzy warm feeling that China built this building? I'm not sure. It will be more about up-to-date relationships and Chinese diplomacy in Addis," he said.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Scramble For Somalia - Horn of Africa: US Proxy War in Somalia Veers Towards Regional Conflict

The conflict in Somalia has been raised to dramatically higher stakes at the weekend after Ethiopian troops occupied a central town, routing Al Shabab militants in fighting that claimed dozens of lives.

The Ethiopian military entered the town of Beledweyne near its border on Saturday morning along with Somali troops belonging to the Western-backed Transitional Federal Government. The latter has been battling with Al Shabab Islamic militants for the past two years, but has only managed to maintain tenuous control of the capital, Mogadishu. Large areas of the country, especially to the south, have been under the command of the militants.

Earlier reports of Ethiopian troops having invaded Somalia with heavy armour were denied by the government in Addis Ababa. But the weekend offensive now confirms Ethiopia’s involvement in its neighbour to the east.

Almost every country in the Horn of Africa has a military presence in war-torn Somalia. In mid-October Kenyan forces mounted a large-scale invasion of Somalia with thousands of troops backed up with tanks and fighter jets. Nearly three months on, Kenyan forces are still battling with Al Shabab militants mainly in the territory south of Mogadishu on Kenya’s north-eastern border.

Last month, a contingent of troops from Djibouti arrived in Mogadishu, officially welcomed by the Somali government to join forces from Burundi and Uganda, which have been present in Somalia for the past two years as part of an African Union (AU) “peacekeeping mission” to combat the militants.

In addition to these contingencies is the involvement of the United States and France. Washington and Paris have given military support to the Kenyan and AU forces. American aerial attack drones and French naval firepower have coordinated with the Kenyan ground assault.

A week before Djibouti troops were dispatched to Somalia, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited Djibouti where he warned about “key terror nodes in Yemen and Somalia”.

Ethiopia is also a close Washington ally. The government in Addis Ababa was given the green light by then President Bush to invade Somalia in 2006 in a bid to oust the Islamic Courts Union that was in power then.

The latest intervention by Ethiopia is unlikely to have been sanctioned without Washington’s clearance.

Superficially, it would appear that Washington is orchestrating a multi-prong offensive against the Somali militants. The US agenda has little to do with fighting terrorism and is motivated by geopolitical concern to assert control over the strategically important East African country. The country has been wracked by conflict for the past two decades ever since the US-backed Siad Barre dictatorship was overthrown in 1991.

With its coastline overlooking the key oil routes of the Gulf of Yemen and Red Sea, the US has been vexed by Somalia’s relentless instability – instability that has been largely engendered by Washington’s proxy warmongering in the region. The US-backed government in Mogadishu, which is accused of corruption and misrule, has proven incapable of decisively controlling the country. Even with generous aid from Washington and military support from neighbouring US-backed states, including the presence of US mercenaries, the government in Mogadishu can only but cling on to its central seat of power.

The entry of forces from Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti could be seen as Washington trying to ratchet up the military pressure on Al Shabab.

But of deeper concern is that US proxy war-making in East Africa could be stoking up nationalist rivalries that may backfire in a regional war between the various players who so far appear to be on the same side, that is, in doing Washington’s dirty work against Al Shabab.

In recent years Ethiopia’s regional leadership has been challenged by the rise of Kenya. Both countries share borders with Somalia and, historically preceding colonial demarcations, both lay claim to adjacent Somali territories. When Kenyan forces invaded Somalia in October, there was a marked diplomatic silence from Ethiopia. Ethiopia had suffered a humiliating defeat when it carried out its US-backed military gambit in Somalia in 2006. With the US latterly turning to Kenya as its favoured proxy there seemed to be a certain chagrin felt in Addis Ababa.

While appearing to do Washington’s bidding against Al Shabab, political sources in Kenya have told Global Research that Nairobi’s agenda is to annex a large swathe of Somalia’s southern Jubbaland territory, historically known as Azania. There have also been reports of Kenyan politicians surreptitiously striking oil deals with French company Total in this part of Somalia. Another crucial natural resource for Kenya in that territory is the acquisition of freshwater, which Kenya is in short supply of.

With Somalia’s territorial integrity at risk from 20 years of internecine violence and lawlessness – despite Washington’s efforts to shore up the federal government – it can be seen as only a matter of time before Ethiopia would join in a scramble for neighbouring land. It is significant that the latest invasion by Ethiopia has targeted the central part of Somalia, the south already being assailed by Kenyan forces.

So far, Washington’s orchestration of conflict in Somalia may appear as a smart bid for neocolonial control. But the real danger is when the deep-seated regional rivalries of Washington’s proxies start to clash at close quarters. And given the desperate need for natural resources in this famine-prone region, the stakes of any resultant all-out conflict take on even greater urgency and mordancy.

Finian Cunningham is Global Research’s Middle East and East Africa correspondent

Global Research Articles by Finian Cunningham

Taliban not the enemy just Al-Quida The US - YouTube