Africa, China and the West: an Exchange With Thomas Mountain by RON JACOBS * Mareeg.com somalia, World News and Opinion.
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Africa, China and the West: an Exchange With Thomas Mountain by RON JACOBS

Ron Jacobs: Hi Tom, first can you provide a little background on
yourself to help the readers understand your perspective on the
matters we are discussing?

Thomas Mountain: I was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawai’i. I married
an ex-fighter from the Eritrean independence war in 1999 that I met in
London and in 2006 we permanently relocated to Eritrea. I describe
myself as an activist and educator and for what it’s worth, the most
widely distributed independent journalist in Africa. I have been
contributing to CounterPunch, amongst other publications, since 2003.

My political activism goes back to helping organize a walkout from
Punahou School (Obama’s alma mater) to protest the US invasion of
Cambodia in 1970. In subsequent years I was involved in the
environmental movement, community organizing against evictions, and
labor support. I attended technical school where I received a
certificate as a heavy equipment mechanic, a field in which I was to
work in, as well as teach until 1993 when I was permanently disabled.

In 1975 I started working with the Revolutionary Communist Party USA
(RCP USA) and was sent by the Party to work at Waialua Sugar Company
on Oahu’s North Shore. In 1977 I was elected by the rank and file as a
member of the ILWU full negotiating committee for what became the last
state wide sugar workers strike in Hawaii. I was also elected as the
co-strike committee chair for our local unit during the month long
strike. I was eventually fired from Waialua Sugar for my political
activism. In 1982 I stopped all work with the Party and in 1983 began
my work with the Pan Africanist movement in the USA as a part of
educational work on Black and African matters which included my
support for the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front beginning in 1983.

In 1982 I also started my support for the Palestinian
people/anti-Zionist movement during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
Eventually this lead to my becoming the local coordinator for what was
then known as the Eyewitness Israel program with the Palestine Human
Rights Campaign.

As I part of my work as Co-Chair of the Hawaii Black History Committee
starting in 1983 I organized a series of programs that included Kwame
Ture’s (Stokely Carmichael) return to Hawaii, appearances by
representatives of the South African Pan Africanist Congress and the

Azanian Peoples Organization as well as Jamaican Reggae poet
Mutabaruka. In 1987 I was invited to be a member of the 1st US Peace
Delegation to Libya and in 1988 represented the USA at the Anti-Racist
Anti-Apartheid Conference in Tokyo Japan. From 1983 until 1997 I
organized a series of cultural events focusing on Black and African
culture including a Tribute to Bob Marley featuring the original band
the Rastafarians, Peter Tosh, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Ramsey Lewis,
Taj Mahal, Tito Puente, Junior Wells, Aswad, Steel Pulse and others.

In 1993 I founded the Hawai’i Artists in the Schools, Inc. and, as
well as producing statewide cultural and educational programs created
and co-taught a graduate level course for public school teachers for
the University of Hawaii titled “The African Influence on World
Civilization” as a part of my work with the late Asa G. Hilliard and
Ivan Van Sertima’s Journal of African Civilization contributing
writers. In 1989 I began working with the late Larry Leon Hamlin,
founder of the National Black Theater Festival which included two
dramatic residencies in Hawaii’s Schools. I was extended an ongoing
Residency invitation by Larry to the Festival which I was able to
accept for the 1995, 1997 and 2001 Festivals in Winston-Salem North
Carolina. In 1996, as a part of my anti-racist work, I helped found
the Ambedkar Journal on India’s Dalits or black untouchables and went
on to co-edit and publish the journal which was the first such
publication on the internet (also see Why India’s Dalits Hate Gandhi).

As a part of my work with the Ambedkar journal and its mission to
educate the world on the caste/varna/color basis of Indian society I
co-founded the Phoolan Devi International Defense Committee which
continued until Sister Phoolan’s death (see the film “Bandit Queen”).
In 1997 I had to take family leave from my job as an educator to take
care of my elderly parents and subsequently founded the Honolulu
Medical Marijuana Patients Co-op, the first public medical marijuana
dispensary in Hawaii. I continued my work with the Co-op building our
membership to over 300 members with referrals from many of the leading
neurologists, oncologists, infectious disease specialists and
osteopaths in Honolulu.

Thomas Mountain.

RJ: You mention you live in Eritrea. I recall going to a couple
meetings back in the 1970s during the Eritrean liberation struggle
against Ethiopia. For the sake of a memory that is a bit hazy, do you
mind summarizing that moment in time and the subsequent history of the
Eritreans and Ethiopia?

TM: In 1983 I was first introduced to a representative of the Eritrean
People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) by Kwame Ture when I traveled to Los
Angeles for my first meeting with Kwame. At the time the EPLF was an
almost unknown guerilla army fighting an independence war against the
Ethiopian colonialization of their country that no one it seemed,
other than the Eritrean people, thought possible to win. Kwame himself
was a longtime supporter of the EPLF and had a policy of requesting,
if possible, a representative of the EPLF to give the opening remarks
at any of his speaking engagements.

I was already familiar with the EPLF and the armed struggle of the
Eritrean people for national liberation due to my work with the RCP
USA whose Revolution Books store carried the EPLF’s literature
(alongside the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front, more on this later).
The EPLF seemed to have the impossible task of winning Eritrean
independence from a particularly brutal Ethiopian regime supported by
the Soviet Union to the tune of many billions of dollars in military
aid. Eritrea only had 3 million people while Ethiopia had some 70
million or more population and the largest best equipped army in
Africa (something still true today). To make matters worse, Ethiopia
and its leader Haile Selassie were revered in the Pan Africanist
movement as a symbol of African resistance to western colonialism and
the forerunner of today’s African Union (AU), the Organization for
African Unity (OAU), had its headquarters in Ethiopia’s capital Addis
Ababa.

The irony and hypocrisy, really, of the OAU, supposedly founded to
combat colonialism in Africa, having its headquarters in Ethiopia,
which had occupied and forcibly annexed and colonized the former
Italian colony of Eritrea, seemed to have been completely lost on
other Africans and the anti-colonial movement in general. It was the
USA’s Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, who so infamously wrote
in his memoirs that Eritrea was supposed to have had the same right to
independence as any other African colony but that it was in the USA’s
“national interest” to give Eritrea to Ethiopia, whose leader at the
time was the firm US ally known for his anti-communism, Haile
Selassie.

So Eritrean independence was still born and after a decade of
frustrated attempts to peacefully obtain independence, the Eritrean
armed struggle for national liberation was founded in 1961. Thirty
years later, after some of the most desperate battles seen in the 20th
century, including some of the greatest military victories, the EPLF,
without any support from anyone other than the Eritrean people at home
and abroad (except maybe Siad Barre, then President of Somalia),
crushed the Ethiopian occupation army of over 250,000 in 1991 and not
only liberated Eritrea but marched on the Ethiopian capital Addis
Ababa and drove the genocidal butcher Haile Mariam Mengistu into exile
in Zimbabwe.

So, in 1991 Eritrea had won its independence on the field of battle
(the only country in post- colonial Africa to have done so, more on
this later), Ethiopia had seen the end of the brutal Mengistu regime
and all was peace and prosperity right? Well this was not to be
because Pax Americana was not about to allow a independent,
“socialist” government that came to power via the armed struggle
versus the western controlled “democratic process” of elections that
had taken place in all the rest of Africa to succeed. Within 7 years
after independence Eritrea was faced with another round of Ethiopian
aggression, this time from their former comrades in arms against the
Mengistu regime, the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) who had
come to power in the vacuum left by the defeat of the Mengistu regime
and subsequent withdrawal of the EPLF from Addis Ababa in 1991.

I have written several articles on how the USA co-opted the TPLF’s
leadership, mainly with billions of dollars in “aid” and sanctioned a
series of bloody murders of more independent minded TPLF leaders. The
result was that a particularly murderous thug named Meles

Zenawi was anointed by the USA to head the new Ethiopian government,
and having the only effective military force in the country, set about
wiping out any resistance to his rule. Item number one on the USA’s
agenda, and this was during Anthony “Tony” Lake’s time as Bill
Clintons “consigliere”/National Security Advisor, was getting rid of
the pesky independence role model, Eritrea.

The result? Starting in 1998 Ethiopia launched a series of attempted
invasions of Eritrea over the completely artificial pretext of a
“border dispute” which eventually saw the defeat of the Ethiopian
invasion of Eritrea in May-June of 2000 and the deaths of 123,000
Ethiopians and 19,000 Eritreans (see the article The War No One
Remembers). Today, 15 years later, despite a “final and binding”
border demarcation the Ethiopian army continues to occupy Eritrean
territory and regularly carries out major military incursions into
Eritrea, all part of the US backed policy of “No War, No Peace” to
force Eritrea to maintain a large military based on national service
in an ongoing effort to destabilize the Eritrean government and damage
the Eritrean economy.

Unfortunately for the US plans to maintain hegemony in the Horn of
Africa, a strategically critical transport lane via the Red Sea/Suez
Canal through which flows the commerce of the two largest trading
partners in the world, Asia and Europe, growing insurgencies inside
Ethiopia are sowing the seeds for regime change. In the south east of
Ethiopia, the Somali peoples of the Ogaden are continuing their armed
struggle for independence. In the west the Anuak peoples of the
Gambella are still fighting the land theft being forced upon them so
their land can be exploited by foreign investors. And in the north, in
the province of Tigray, the ethnic homeland of the ruling regime, a
large rebel army based on the Eritrean border is steadily expanding
its area of operations and beginning to seriously threaten the present
ethnic minority government in power in Addis Ababa.

Only an unprecedented wave of foreign investment has kept the
Ethiopian regime afloat. Estimates are that Ethiopia runs a trade
deficit of over $10 billion a year. The only major exports Ethiopia
has to support a country of 90 plus million are coffee and cut
flowers. This brings in at best $2.5 billion a year. Only regular
massive aid injections and the largest “loan forgiveness program” in
Africa are keeping the regime afloat. It is a matter of when, not if,
that will see a regime change in the country, for the present US
backed mafia that runs the country grows more hated and isolated by
the day. This past election didn’t even see a pretense of “democracy,”
with the ruling party declaring themselves the winner of 100% of the
seats in parliament. Of course, Susan Rice, President Obama’s National
Security Advisor, told the assembled media at a press conference
during Obama’s trip to Africa that Ethiopia was “100% democratic” with
a straight face.

The main purpose of Obama’s recent visit to Ethiopia was an attempt to
shore up an increasingly unpopular regime’s credibility, for little in
the way of investment by the USA was announced. Internationally, US
foreign policy is based on using local “police” to do its dirty work.
In South America, that force is Columbia, in West Africa it is
Nigeria, in the Middle East it is Israel and in east Africa, and it is
mainly Ethiopia. On the behest of the USA Ethiopia attempted to invade
and destroy Eritrea in 1998-2000, invaded Somalia and destroyed the
first government Mogadishu had seen in 15 years in 2006 and is
presently actively supporting the “rebels” putatively lead by Reik
Machar in South Sudan. Without Ethiopia and its largest best equipped
army in Africa, the USA will be in a very difficult position.

At the end of 2005, shortly after the death of my last surviving
parent, I was forced to shut down the Patients Co-op following public
threats made against me by the then US Attorney in Hawaii. Following
this we sold our home and moved to Eritrea where we have been living
ever since. Eritrea is a very peaceful country with almost no crime or
even homelessness or what is all too common in Africa, beggars. The
streets are clean, the people friendly and for all the malicious lies
and slanders calling Eritrea a “police state” the only police on the
streets, and very few at that, do not carry any weapons, not even
batons. Satellite television via dishes is everywhere without any
jamming of any stations what so ever. The internet is completely
uncensored, though quite slow due to the lack of a fiber optic
connection and the reliance on a limited band width satellite link.

The government subsidizes basic food supplies as well as electricity.
While few changes can be seen in the main towns and cities, life for
the majority of the people who live in the villages has changed
dramatically for the better in the 24 years since independence. Wells
providing easy access to clean drinking water, roads and bus services,
schools and medical clinics; all are now available to most rural
Eritreans with services to even the most remote villages a priority
for the government. Most of these services in the villages are powered
by solar electric systems and Eritrea is said to be the per capita
second most solar friendly country in the world.

Eritrea’s health system has been lauded as one of the most successful
in Africa and has reduced malaria mortality by up to 80%. It is the
only country in Africa to have seen a major reduction in HIV/AIDS, by
up to 40%. Health care is accessible, almost free, and is free to
those eligible, and steadily improving. Almost every village in the
malaria belt is within two hours walk from a medical clinic where
comprehensive treatment is available. Eritrea today is facing two
major challenges: the first is the US-lead economic sabotage and aid
embargoes. The second is climate change, climate disaster really (see
Surviving Climate Disaster in Africa’s Sahel).

Including this year’s drought, Eritrea has been ravaged by drought in
6 of the last 12 years, including historically unprecedented back to
back droughts in 2003-4 and 2008-9. In spite of this, due to the
massive allocation of scarce resources, Eritrea has been able to
prevent any serious food shortages. Another factor is the ongoing
construction of major water reservoirs used for irrigation as a part
of a national priority campaign of water and soil conservation as well
as reforestation. I have written an article titled “Eritrea; The Cuba
of Africa” on how Eritrea, like Cuba, is struggling against the
all-powerful US empire and while the road ahead for us remains
difficult the attempts by the US to deter our leaderships efforts to
build “A rich Eritrea without rich Eritreans” are not succeeding.

RJ: You originally contacted me in response to a review I wrote about
Nick Turse’s book Tomorrow’s Battlefield, which concerns the growing
footprint of the US military on the African continent. Can you please
address that and how it looks from your perspective as a resident?

TM: The USA, and its western minions, have targeted Africa with a
policy best described as “Crisis Management”, as in create a crisis
and then manage the subsequent disaster to better loot and plunder
African resources. If the USA can’t manage to directly pillage the
newly crisis ridden region at least, as in the case of South Sudan, it
can deny access to valuable resource to its competitors. In the case
of South Sudan, to have the Chinese prevented from pumping oil, or at
least from expanding Chinese oil development there. The Chinese on the
other hand, are dominating the development of African resources in a
policy aimed at partnership with African governments, no matter how
odious. For example, in Ethiopia, China has invested $3 billion in
building a new railway linking the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa,
with Ethiopia’s only access to the sea, Djibouti, a major improvement
over the dangerous road corridor now being used. China is also
investing $400 million in upgrading Djibouti’s notoriously overcrowded
port through which Ethiopia imports 90% of what it needs to survive.

This is typical of Chinese policy in Africa, and the rest of the
world, and is in contrast to the rape and pillage policy of western
countries. Of course, it is very profitable for China and without the
massive infrastructure projects China is developing (i.e. ports,
roads, railways etc.), it wouldn’t be possible for China to access the
raw materials they need from Africa. China also provides relatively
generous aid programs, at least in comparison to the puny benefits
Africa receives from the west which are mainly for the purposes of
making African countries more dependent on the western economies.
Chinese aid has built more schools, hospitals, water and electric
infrastructure than all the western governments and the UN combined,
and is set to do much more if the present programs that have been
announced are implemented. China recognizes that Africa needs educated
and skilled personnel to help develop African resources and it is in
China’s interest to help make this happen. Again, doing this is a long
term investment that will pay off for China, both in good will and in
their companies’ bottom lines.

The US military via its African Central Command has been slowly
expanding its efforts in Africa. With Djibouti being the only
permanent military presence on the African continent, and even this
becoming increasingly problematic (see US vs. China in Djibouti) the
main military operations in Africa are via the drone assassination
program. Some training is going on, and a number of armament programs
are expanding but to this day the French military in Africa is
substantially greater than the USA’s. Of course, the US has Ethiopia
and its large army to rely on, though even this has been badly damaged
following the Ethiopian defeat by Eritrea in 2000 with the loss of the
cream of the Ethiopian army, and the subsequent Ethiopian invasion,
eventual defeat and withdrawal from Somalia resulting in a loss of
over 20,000 Ethiopian troops from 2006-2008.

The US is mainly involved in supporting proxy wars such as its support
via Ethiopia for the “rebellion” in South Sudan (see Obama’s War in
South Sudan) and the nasty counterinsurgency being waged by various
African countries at the USA’s behalf in Somalia. The USA has been
involved in many crimes in Africa during the past few decades but none
have been worse than what would best be described as the War on the
Somali People. This includes not only Somalia itself but the Somali
people of the Ogaden in southeast Ethiopia. Since 2007, during a
series of drought—including the Great Horn of Africa drought from
2010-2012, the worst in 60 years—the Ethiopian government, with the
support of the US and the UN, has imposed a food and medical aid
blockade for all of the Ogaden and large areas of Oromia in south
western Ethiopia. Even MSF (Doctors without Borders) and the Red Cross
have been expelled from the Ogaden, something no other country in the
world has been allowed to do (see “Full Blown Genocide in Ethiopia”
and “Feeding Death Squads in Ethiopia”).

RJ: You wrote a brief piece on CounterPunch (May 7, 2013) about the
famine in Somalia. Do you consider these types of “events” to be
manmade or not?

TM: In Somalia proper, the over one million refugees, most whom are
the result of the war started by the US backed Ethiopian invasion of
Somalia and the ongoing occupation of Somalia by foreign UN backed
troops, were the victims of a deliberate policy of starvation by the
UN, in particular UNICEF, headed by former US National Security
Advisor and failed nominee to head the CIA Anthony “Tony” Lake.
According to the UN, at least 250,000 Somalis, many in the care of the
UN, starved to death during the great drought and famine of 2010-12.
This massive starvation, which could be considered genocide, was
predicted by this writer when Tony Lake announced in 2010 that he had
budgeted less than 10 cents a day to feed over 1 million Somali
refugees (see UN and the Starvation of 250,000 Somalis). Other
articles have shown how the policy of the US and its lackeys at the UN
(the head of the World Food Program was appointed by George Bush) has
been to deliberately sabotage Somali food self-sufficiency, (see Angel
of Mercy or Angel of Death; the WFP in Somalia).

RJ: It is my impression that Washington has minimal interest in
engaging the people of any country it goes into in a manner that
benefits the people of that country. Instead, it seems to perceive the
world in terms of its own economic and strategic requirements. Do you
believe this to be accurate when it comes to US involvement in the
nations of Africa? How so? Alternatively, one reads that China, in its
pursuit of resources and markets, invests in other nations in a
different manner–investing in education, health care, infrastructure,
etc… Do you find this to be true? What are your thoughts on this and
the different approaches by Washington and Beijing?

TM: The USA and its western minions have targeted Africa with a policy
best described as “Crisis Management. In other words, create a crisis
and then manage the subsequent disaster to better loot and plunder
African resources. If the USA can’t manage to directly pillage the
newly crisis ridden region at least, as in the case of South Sudan, it
can deny access to valuable resource to its competitors. For example,
in the case of South Sudan, to have the Chinese prevented from pumping
oil, or at least from expanding Chinese oil development there. The
Chinese on the other hand, are dominating the development of African
resources in a policy aimed at partnership with African governments,
no matter how odious.

For example, in Ethiopia, China has invested $3 billion in building a
new railway linking the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, with
Ethiopia’s only access to the sea, Djibouti, a major improvement over
the dangerous road corridor now being used. China is also investing
$400 million in upgrading Djibouti’s notoriously overcrowded port
through which Ethiopia imports 90% of what it needs to survive. This
is typical of Chinese policy in Africa and the rest of the world, and
is in contrast to the rape and pillage policy of western countries. Of
course, it is very profitable for China and without the massive
infrastructure projects China is developing i.e. ports, roads,
railways etc., it wouldn’t be possible for China to access the raw
materials they need from Africa.

China also provides relatively generous aid programs, at least in
comparison to the puny benefits Africa receives from the west which
are mainly for the purposes of making African countries more dependent
on the western economies. Chinese aid has built more schools,
hospitals, water and electric infrastructure than all the western
governments and the UN combined, and is set to do much more if the
present programs that have been announced are implemented. China
recognizes that Africa needs educated and skilled personnel to help
develop African resources and it is in China’s interest to help make
this happen. Again, doing this is a long term investment that will pay
off for China, both in good will and in their companies’ bottom lines.

RJ: Looking at the various groups/movements the US military has
targeted on the African continent–Boko Harum, various Al Queda
offshoots, etc.–how do you explain their existence and ability to
wreak the havoc they seem to do? And tangentially, what do you see as
potential futures for the people and nations of Africa, economically
and politically?

TM: The phenomenon of terrorism in Africa is fairly recent and is
found in countries that for all intents and purposes are “failed
states”. When a government does not provide the essential human rights
to its people—food, water, shelter, medical care and education for its
children—that government is failing in its most basic purpose and
should be considered a “failed state.” In most areas of Nigeria for
example, most Nigerians struggle every day just to survive and water-
borne disease, malnutrition, malaria and other communicable disease
are rife. Education is just a dream for many if not most Nigerians and
the existing conditions are ripe for the growth of the most fanatical
forms of religious extremism. Somalia and the development of what is
described as a terrorist group, “Al Shabab” is an example of how
terrorism is created as a direct result of the US policy of “Failed
States” (see Obama’s Failed States Policy in Africa).

Prior to the US instigated Ethiopian invasion of Somalia at the end of
2006 there was no terrorist organization called “Al Shabab”. The Union
of Islamic Courts, a moderate, nationalist, Islamic confederation of
Somali religious and clan based leadership had driven out the warlords
that ruled Mogadishu for 15 years since the collapse of the previous
government lead by Siad Barre and brought peace to Mogadishu. The very
existence of an independent, nationalist Islamic government reuniting
Somalia, which lies at the mouth of the Baab Al Mandeb, the entrance
from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea and its strategically critical
trade between Asia and Europe, was intolerable to the USA and it sent
the Ethiopian army to put an end to this very positive development;
positive for the Somali people and the region, that is.

The Ethiopian army and its armor and heavy artillery quickly drove the
UIC from power and into foreign exile and ignited a conflagration of
Somali nationalism that the youth wing of the UIC, Al Shabab, quickly
took advantage of. In time a more fanatical wing of the youth movement
ruthlessly wiped out its rivals and what is today known as the “Al
Queda linked Al Shabab” was born. To put it simply, if the US hadn’t
sent in its “policeman on the beat”, Ethiopia, to destroy the UIC and
the peace they had brought to Somalia there would be no terrorist
movement in Somalia. The “Failed States policy” being employed in
Africa, whether a deliberate destruction of a country like Libya by
the western military, or a more indirect policy of ignoring their
puppet leaders mistakes until disaster strikes like in the Central
African Republic; an instance which was quickly followed by a French
program of ethnic cleansing of the ethnically Muslim population in an
attempt to maintain French control, it all boils down to the same
thing, a failed state policy.

As a result, the future of Africa is not very bright under the
present, western/UN dominated system. A small, independent country
like Eritrea should be a role model for Africa, and is seen very
clearly by the USA and the rest of the western countries as “a threat
of a good example”. For example, Eritrea receives 40% of the profits
from its first gold mine in comparison to Tanzania, where
Anglo-American operates one of the largest gold mines in the world and
only pays the Tanzanian government a 4% royalty. If the rest of Africa
starts to follow Eritrea example and demands a real partnership from
foreign investors and uses the money for the benefit of its own people
instead of paying off extortionate loans from the western dominated
World Bank and IMF, then the bloated, wasteful standard of living
being experience by the western population will not be sustainable and
will result in serious social instability and eventually, possible
collapse of the financial elite dominated governments. This may
explain why Eritrea, whether you and I may understand it, must not be
allowed to prosper, just as Cuba for so many decades has been made to
suffer.

(The italicized references in parentheses refer to articles written by
Mr. Mountain. One can read them by doing a browser search with the
title provided—Ron.)

Thomas Mountain is a journalist, educator and activist. He lives in Eritrea.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in
the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He
can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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