Manitoba Hydro helps privatize Nigeria utility

It’s the black eye few Manitobans knew they had.

Senate Passes Motions on Unwholesome Practices by Manitoba Hydro Limited,” read one recent Nigerian press headline while another blared: “Manitoba sued over transmission contract extension.”

Largely unbeknownst to its owners, Manitoba Hydro International (MHI) has stirred significant controversy in Africa’s most populous nation. Over the past four years the Nigerian press has published hundreds of articles about MHI’s diplomatic backing, conflicts with local officials and disputes over its four-year contract to manage the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN).

As part of its role in overseeing the privatization of Nigeria’s electricity system, Ottawa-based consultancy firm CPCS Transcom contracted MHI to manage TCN, which was the only part of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria supposed to remain public. But MHI worked with a Nigerian power minister intent on privatizing the country’s sole transmission provider.

A Nigerian electricity analyst pointed out how strange it was for Manitoba’s public utility to facilitate what would be illegal at home (the Manitoba Hydro Act requires a provincial referendum for privatization). Policy Chair on Energy, Infrastructure and Technology at Nigeria’s NDI think tank, Tunji Ariyomo called “it a bit ironical that while Manitoba [MHI] remains solely a government owned company in Canada with a legislative protection to prevent its privatization, the company has announced that one of its key objectives is to reorganize Transmission Company of Nigeria such that its function as a Transmission Service Provider (TSP) could be separated and for the TSP to become a private commercial company.”

MHI’s plans were resisted by the workforce, elements of the government and much of the population. The electricity workers union demanded all outstanding labour issues be resolved before MHI took control of TCN. In August 2012 they blocked MHI managers and power Minister Bart Nnaji from entering the corporate headquarters until their picket lines were broken up by dozens of armed military personnel. The  Daily Independent reported “the workers were beaten to a pulp” but refused to back down and “proceeded to make the environment a living hell for the Canadian firm.”

MHI’s $24 million contract to manage TCN created conflict within the government and power ministry. While power minister Nnaji supported it, the Daily Trust reported “some powerfulinterests in the Ministry of Power were reportedly unimpressed with the arrangement to transfer the management of the transmission plants to the Canadian firm.” They questioned its impact on knowledge transfer and job creation and expressed fear that a private monopoly over the country’s electricity transmission would lead to collusion.

Four months after taking control of TCN, MHI’s contract was cancelled by President Goodluck Jonathan. With the workforce protesting and many in the government opposed to MHI’s plans, Director General of the Bureau of Public Procurement Emeka Eze highlighted irregularities in the process that led to MHI’s selection. According to This Day, Eze sent a memo to the president “pushing for its [MHI’s contract] cancellation on the premise that it did not pass through due process as provided under the Public Procurement Act.”

Canadian officials condemned the cancellation of MHI’s contract. In an article headlined “How Canadian Govt Forced [President] Jonathan to Make U-Turn” the Abuja Leadership reported that Canadian High Commissioner Chris Cooter contacted the minister of finance, vice president and president, telling them “that the Canadian government was unhappy with the issue and may be reluctant in supporting Nigeria in other sectors due to the way Manitoba has been treated.” Cooter suggested the decision would impact Canadian investment. “The message I am conveying back to Canada is that Nigeria is open for business, and that the Manitoba Hydro contract proves it.”

The Canadian lobby was successful and within a week MHI regained its contract. Six months later, during a meeting in Ottawa, International Trade Minister Ed Fast personally thanked Nigerian Vice-President Mohammed Namadi Sambo. This Day reported that “Fast expressed Canada’s gratitude over the manner issues surrounding Manitoba Hydro were resolved.”

Eight months after its contract was restored the chairman of TCN’s supervisory board resigned in protest. Hamman Tukur accused MHI of a domineering style and denounced it for appointing a new director to the TCN board, which should have been the government’s prerogative. Tukur told an interviewer: “Can you imagine this! Somebody from Manitoba in far-away Canada appointing a managing director and chief executive officer of the Transition Company of Nigeria owned by the Federal Government of Nigeria.” In December the Nigerian Managing Director of TCN resigned in a dispute over MHI’s authority.

Tukur was critical of his government for allowing MHI to usurp its authority. But, the Nigerian government was under significant pressure from the World Bank and foreign governments to privatize its electricity network, which has led to protests over massive price increases.

How would the people of Manitoba feel if a Nigerian company came here to privatize their publicly owned power system?

This article was submitted to the Winnipeg Free Press perspectives and politics editor who edited it and asked me to look over her changes. A second editor then asked me to clarify/rewrite a sentence, which was done. The story was then spiked and to the best of my knowledge, Manitoba’s leading newspaper has yet to mention the controversy at all.

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Unions will thrive if they promote alternative to capitalism

At their finest labour unions are class conscious organizations that check the corporate elite’s influence over public policy. But, even the best Canadian unions have largely failed to provide an alternative vision to the existing system and challenge the power of big business over important areas of our lives.

Alongside collective-bargaining activities, unions have spearheaded efforts to expand the Canadian Pension Plan and Employment Insurance coverage, to raise minimum wages and to improve labour laws. While these campaigns have directly benefited all workers, unions have also been heavily involved in fights for Medicare and public daycare, programs that serve a wider interest than just people who work for a living.

Over the past few decades most unions have devoted resources to combating sexism, racism and homophobia. They have done so out of a sense of solidarity and an understanding, built upon internal union struggles, that these forms of oppression take their toll on many members and society in general.

But unfortunately unions have generally deferred to the business class regarding much of the social, cultural and even economic sphere. Advertising provides a striking example of this implicit class compromise. On a typical day most people come across hundreds of ads, which greatly influence their consumption habits and social outlook. Additionally, a media sphere funded through advertising gives corporations significant leverage over the news agenda (companies regularly pull or threaten to pull ads when they are unhappy about a story and simply refuse to advertise in leftist media outlets). Yet most unions have little to say about this expression of capitalist power or the particularly acute psychological burden advertising places on low-income people. Few (if any) unions have called for blanket restrictions on destructive corporate advertising. In fact, some unions representing media workers have called for more advertising. In response to layoffs at the Toronto Star two years ago, a union representative was quoted in a release saying, “Why cut ad staff when the thing we need most is more ads?”

In another example of how unions concede much of the social/cultural/economic arena to big business, they have given a free pass to the private automobile even though orienting our living spaces around cars is particularly damaging to working class interests.

As the least accessible and most expensive form of land transportation, car-dominated transport eats up a disproportionate amount of working-class income. Rather than promoting cars, unions should be promoting access to employment, lodging and goods by foot, bike or mass transit as this would greatly benefit lower income people, as well as society in general.

But why not “cars for all” some might ask. One important answer is the environment. A transportation system based on the private automobile is simply not sustainable. Preventing global warming requires drastically reducing the number of cars.

But even aside from the critical environmental question cars are bad for ordinary people.

For example, the automobile gives wealthy people an important means to assert their dominance through their fancy vehicle. This has been an important factor since the dawn of the auto age. Even before they had significant utility, cars grew to prominence as technological toys for the rich. As the technology advanced and the infrastructure was laid, the car became popular among the wealthy because it strengthened their dominance over mobility, which had been slightly undermined by rail.

(Prior to the train’s ascendance in the mid-1800s, the elite traveled by (the very expensive) private horse and buggy. With respect to mobility, the train and streetcar blurred class lines. Unlike the train and streetcar, which were more available to all classes of society, the automobile provided an exclusive form of travel.)

The automobile’s capacity to create social distance appealed to early car buyers and continues to appeal to supporters of inequality. In a car, one can remain separate from perceived social inferiors (blue-collar workers, immigrants, etc.) while in transit.

Unions have largely ignored the ways in which the private car strengthen wealthy people’s grip over mobility and culture — to be fair so has much of the so-called left. Even the financial burden that a car-dominated transportation system places on the working class has seldom been challenged.

In fact, many unions contribute to automotive hegemony by locating their offices in auto-dependent suburbs, subsidizing staff parking and providing car allowances (over $10 000 a year) to employees who have no work-related reason for a vehicle. In a particularly disturbing example of this pro-car attitude, Unifor calls for greater public subsidies for auto manufacturing and for individuals to “buy a car”.

Most union leaders and officials seem largely indifferent to capitalist dominance over culture/space. For them, the class struggle (they might not use this term) is generally confined to the relations of production and getting ‘more’ stuff (not necessarily more power or even a better life) for members.

But rather than simply accept corporate dominance over culture and the status quo in the way something as important as our transportation system functions unions should fight for something better. They should offer an alternative, a vision of the good life in an environmentally sustainable economy.

As the corporate elite drive us towards an ecological precipice, it’s more important than ever for members and activists within unions to push for a broader definition of class struggle. If we don’t, there may be no good jobs left for our grandchildren.

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Kagame: dictator or great leader?

The Globe and Mail’s recent coverage of Rwanda has been schizophrenic. While South African-based correspondent Geoffrey York has done important work detailing how Paul Kagame’s government has assassinated its opponents and contributed to violence in Eastern Congo, columnist Gerald Caplan has justified its repression and echoed Kigali’s position on regional conflicts.

At the start of January York reported on two new books describing the totalitarian nature of President Kagame’s regime. “Village informers”, wrote York. “Re-education camps. Networks of spies on the streets. Routine surveillance of the entire population. The crushing of the independent media and all political opposition. A ruler who changes the constitution to extend his power after ruling for two decades. It sounds like North Korea, or the totalitarian days of China under Mao. But this is the African nation of Rwanda – a long-time favourite of Western governments and a major beneficiary of millions of dollars in Canadian government support.”

A year and a half ago York wrote an explosive investigation headlined “Inside the plots to kill Rwanda’s dissidents”, which provided compelling evidence that the regime had extended its assassination program, killing (or attempting to) a number of its former top officials who were living in South Africa. Since the initial investigation York has also reported on Rwandan dissidents who’ve had to flee Belgium for their safety and revealed that Ottawa failed to act after UN and Spanish court investigations concluded Canadian priests Guy Pinard and Claude Simard were killed by soldiers loyal to Kagame in the mid-1990s.

At the end of 2012 York reported on Rwanda reasserting control over the mineral rich Eastern Congo. In one of a number of insightful articles York described how “Rwandan sponsored” M23 rebels “hold power by terror and violence.” The rebel group added “a [new] layer of administrators, informers, police and other operatives” in and around the city of Goma in part to “bolster” its “grip on the trade in ‘blood minerals’.” (In 1996 Rwandan forcesmarched 1,500 km to topple the regime in Kinshasa and then re-invaded after the Congolese government it installed expelled Rwandan troops. This led to an eight-country war between 1998 and 2003, which left millions dead.)

While York has done what investigative journalists are supposed to do — comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable — unfortunately the Globe also publishes regular columns by an author who seems to strive for the exact opposite in the case of Rwanda.

Gerald Caplan recently wrote about political conflict in Burundi, invoking Kagame’s rhetoric of “genocide” all the while ignoring Rwanda’s role in organizing armed opposition to the Burundian government. In support of Kigali’s aggressive regional posture, Caplan continues to repeat Kagame’s rationale for unleashing mayhem in the Congo two decade after the mass killing of Rwandan Tutsi (and Hutu) in 1994. In a 2014 column he wrote: “In the Congo former génocidaires lead a violent anti-Kagame militia dedicated to ‘finishing the work’ of the hundred days.”

In another column Caplan justified the arrest of presidential opponent Victoire Ingabire and criticized the Law Society of Upper Canada after it called for the release of her American lawyer, who was also imprisoned.

And strangely, for a former NDP strategist, Caplan has sought to muzzle media that disagree with the current government’s version of Rwandan history. In 2014 he signed an open letter condemning the BBC documentary Rwanda’s Untold Story and a year earlier wrote a piece about lobbying the University of Toronto to remove the Taylor Report, a program on campus radio, from air because it hosted critics of the Rwandan government.

Caplan has failed to inform readers about his ties to the regime in Kigali. He started an organization with Rwanda’s current Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo and said he stays at her family’s hotel when visiting the country. Caplan has also spoken at a number of events in Kigali and New York organized by the Rwandan government.

So, who to believe? York or Caplan? Is Kagame a saint or dictator?

My money is on the investigative journalist.

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Canada’s Kagame apologist

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has long been the darling of prominent liberals such as Bill Clinton, Samantha Power and Tony Blair. But, it’s become ever more difficult to publicly back the bloodstained Rwandan dictator.

After two decades in power Kagame recently had the constitution changed so (only) he can keep running for office. Alongside Kagame’s move to stay president for life, the regime has employed increasingly brazen tactics to deter dissent. Extending their assassination program beyond East Africa, in recent years Rwanda has assassinated (or attempted to) a number of former top officials in South Africa.

In Canada Gerald Caplan is Kagame’s leading liberal backer. Last week the former NDP strategist published an op-ed on the political conflict in Burundi, which invoked Kigali’s rhetoric of “genocide” all the while ignoring Rwanda’s role in organizing armed opposition to the Burundian government. For more than a decade and a half Caplan has legitimated Kagame’s authoritarianism, his atrocities during the 1990–94 invasion of Rwanda and repeated invasions of the Congo, which have left millions dead.

Caplan was converted to Kagame’s cause when he was commissioned to write a report for the Organization of African Unity in the late 1990s. At the behest of a Canadian panelist, Caplan largely wrote The Preventable Genocide for the Organization of African Unity Panel of Eminent Personalities to Investigate the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda & the Surrounding Events. The initiative was reportedly instigated by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and it was partly funded by Canada.

While paying lip service to the complex interplay of ethnic, class and regional politics, as well as international pressures, that spurred the Rwandan Genocide, the 300-page report is premised on the unsubstantiated claim that there was a high level plan by the Hutu government to kill all Tutsi. It ignores the overwhelming evidence (and logic) pointing to Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front as the most likely culprit in shooting down the plane carrying Rwandan Hutu President Juvénal Habyarimana and much of the Army high command. This event sparked the genocidal killings of spring 1994. The report also rationalizes Rwanda’s repeated invasions of the Congo, including a 1,500 km march to topple Joseph Mobutu’s regime in Kinshasa and subsequent re-invasion after the government it installed expelled Rwandan troops, which led to an eight-country war between 1998 and 2003. A decade after the mass killing of Rwandan Tutsi (and Hutu) in 1994 Caplan was still repeating Kagame’s rationale for unleashing mayhem in the Congo. In 2004 the self-described “Africa scholar” wrote, “From Zaire they [Genocidaires] began an insurgency back into Rwanda with the purpose of ‘finishing the job’. Eventually this led to the Rwandan’s invading Zaire/Congo to suppress the insurgency.”

As part of his staunch support for the regime in Kigali, Caplan has sought to muzzle media that question the official version of the “Rwanda Genocide”. In 2014 he signed an open letter condemning the BBC 2 documentary Rwanda’s Untold Story. The 1,266 word public letter refers to the BBC’s “genocide denial”, “genocide deniers” or “deniers” at least 13 times. Notwithstanding Caplan and his co-signers smears, which gave Kagame cover to ban BBC’s Kinyarwanda station, Rwanda the Untold Story interviews a former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), a former high-ranking member of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda and a number of former Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) associates of Kagame. In The Kagame-Power Lobby’s Dishonest Attack on the BBC 2’s Documentary on RwandaEdward S. Hermann and David Peterson write: “[Caplan et al.’s] cry of the immorality of ‘genocide denial’ provides a dishonest cover for Paul Kagame’s crimes in 1994 and for his even larger crimes in Zaire-DRC [Congo]. … [The letter signees are] apologists for Kagame Power, who now and in years past have served as intellectual enforcers of an RPF and U.S.-U.K.-Canadian party line.”

In a more aggressive effort to suppress discussion of Rwanda, Caplan reported in 2013 that he lobbied the head of the University of Toronto to remove the Taylor Report, a program on the University’s radio station, from the station. I asked the then-president of the University of Toronto whether even within the framework of free speech, it was appropriate for the university’s radio station to so blatantly promote genocide denial. He explained that the station had editorial independence but agreed to seek information from CIUT’s then-station manager. He reported back to me that the latter disagreed with my assessment of CIUT’s coverage of Rwanda and would keep The Taylor Report running as it was.”

In criticizing the Taylor Report Caplan complained that host Phil Taylor gave a platform to Robin Philpott who he dubbed “perhaps Canada’s most prominent [genocide] denier.” Caplan claimed Philpot was part of “a tiny number of long-time American and Canadian genocide deniers, who gleefully drink each other’s putrid bath water.”

But Philpot, who’s written a number of books on Rwanda, countered with an impressive list of individuals who disagree with Caplan’s pro-RPF version of Rwandan history. This includes the former Secretary General of the United Nations Boutros Boutros-Ghali, head of the UN mission in Rwanda Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh, head of Belgian troops in Kigali Colonel Luc Marchal, intelligence officer for the UN mission in Rwanda Amadou Deme, Hotel Rwanda’s Paul Rusesabagina, Belgian historian Filip Reyntjens etc. Philpot writes, “he obviously cannot mention their names because their testimony flies in the face of Caplan’s, simplistic, Hollywood, good-guys-versus-bad-guys version of events.”

Caplan’s “Hollywood” version of the Rwandan tragedy has led him to back the liberal imperialist Responsibility to Protect doctrine and call for more US interventions. In 2013 he co-authored an article titled Genocide: America says ‘Never Again,’ but keeps turning a blind eye and in an earlier interview Caplan complained that “every U.S. President from Reagan to Obama has made grand speeches that declare the words ‘never again,’ and yet each one has allowed some terrible disaster to go unnoticed. Inaction has been the reoccurring theme in all of these administrations.”

While Caplan’s assessment of the Rwandan tragedy has led him to a decidedly non-progressive worldview, complaining about US “inaction” has been good for his career. Caplan has parlayed his writing and activism on Rwanda into gigs with the UN as well as the Globe and Mail and CBC. Caplan also charges a massive speaker fee. According to a Speakerpedia representative, it would cost “$7500-10k USD plus travel from Toronto” to have him present in Montréal. Caplan’s Speakerpedia profile is largely devoted to Rwanda, noting he’s “visited Rwanda more than a dozen times and has written and spoken widely about the Rwandan genocide.”

While Caplan presents himself as defending Africa against the West’s “betrayal”, history will judge his Rwanda work harshly. When Kagame falls it will become clear Caplan has provided important ideological cover to the individual responsible for the largest number of African deaths over the past quarter-century.

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Canada reaps what it sows in Africa

Blowback. Karma. Unintended consequences. A corollary to the golden rule. We have many words to describe the concept: Doing harm to others often results in bad things happening to us or people we “care” about, sometimes many years later.

Since the November attacks in Paris Boko Haram has killed nearly twice as many people as Daesh/ISIL/ISIS did in the City of Lights. But the carnage in northern Nigeria has received much less attention and Canada’s connection to it none at all.

Five days after the Paris killings Boko Haram claimed responsibility for suicide attacks in Yola and Kano that killed 50. Ten days later the group killed 22 at a Shia Muslim procession near Kano, another 11 a few days later just over the border in Cameroon and 27 on an island on Nigeria’s border with Chad a week later. Last week they killed 52 in Maiduguri and Madagali. According to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index, Boko Haram killed more people in 2014 than Daesh.

Largely ignored in North America, the 2011 Canada/France/Britain/US war in Libya benefited Boko Haram. It destabilized that country and now Daesh is in control of Sirte and other parts of the country. In 2012 the Libyan conflict spilled south into Mali. Last March Boko Haram announced its affiliation with ISIL and the Nigerian group is thought to be receiving fighters and media support from ISIL camps in Libya. The Libyan war also increased the availability of weaponry in the Sahel region. A few months after Gaddafi was killed a Reuters headline explained: “Arms from Libya could reach Boko Haram, al Qaeda: U.N.”

During the Libyan war the African Union predicted as much. In opposing the NATO/Gulf monarchies invasion of Libya, AU Commission Chief Jean Ping said “Africa’s concern is that weapons that are delivered to one side or another … are already in the desert and will arm terrorists and fuel trafficking.” When the Libyan conflict spilled southward in 2012 then Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo voiced similar concerns. “Part of what is happening in Mali is part of the fallout from Libya, and we should not expect that Mali will be the last.”

Canada played a significant role in the 2011 NATO attack in Libya. A Canadian general led the bombing campaign, seven CF-18 fighter jets participated and two Canadian naval vessels patrolled the Libyan coast. Additionally, Canadian special forces were reported to be operating in the country while a Canadian drone maker armed the anti-Gaddafi forces and Montréal private security firm GardaWorld aided them.

Beyond Ottawa’s role in Libya, Canadians long ago contributed to the political and religious tensions that have given rise to a group named (loosely translated) “Western education is a sin”. While in no way justifying Boko Haram’s wonton slaughter of innocents, the violent colonization of northern Nigeria and aggressive evangelizing efforts partly explain Boko Haram’s existence.

A lieutenant in the West African Frontier Force (WAFF) Canadian Gore Munbee Barrow was one of 25 white officers who led a thousand-man expedition in 1903 to conquer the Sokoto Caliphate in northern Nigeria. With four rapid firing Maxim guns and four 75mm cannons, it took a 90-minute battle to capture the capital of Sokoto, which had been West Africa’s largest single state in the nineteenth century. According to Wars of Imperial Conquest in Africa, 1830-1914, “as the WAFF column neared the city, hordes of horsemen and footmen armed with swords, spears, old guns and bows and arrows appeared, charging the square over and over again, only to be mown down by machine gun and carbine fire.” Boko Haram regularly references the founder of the Sokoto Caliphate, Usman dan Fodio.

A number of Canadians played a role in the colonial administration of Northern Nigeria. After taking part in British military campaigns in Sudan and South Africa, Montréal’s Percy Girouard was appointed high commissioner and governor of Northern Nigeria from 1906 – 09 (then a separate colony). The Royal Military College of Canada trained governor allowed compulsory labour to be used on some public and private projects.

Canadian missionaries also played a central role in Christianizing the now fervently religious country split between a mostly Christian south and Muslim north. In 1905, the Ontario Conference of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ sent Toronto’s Alexander Woods Banfield to proselytize among the Nupe of north-western Nigeria. Banfield took it upon himself to learn the language and translated the Bible into Nupe. He also founded the Niger Press, which aimed to secure “in printed form the word of God in Nigerian languages.” Rising to become general secretary for West Africa of the British and Foreign Bible Society, Banfield supported the colonial authorities and his personal writings were not free from outbursts of racism, including an assertion that “people along the banks of the Niger are almost wild… almost entirely untouched by the white man.”

In 1893 Torontonians Walter Gowans and Rowland Victor Bingham established the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM), which became the largest Protestant mission in Nigeria. (At the time “Sudan” generally referred to the area south of the Sahara and North of the equator from the east to west coast of Africa.) Writing about northern Nigerian missionaries, Brad Faught surmises that British Governor Frederick “Lugard and the colonial state were the guarantors of the SIM’s operations.”

On top of supporting colonialism, SIM openly and aggressively criticized Islam. In a 1943 book titled From Cannibalism to Christ: a story of the transforming power of the gospel in darkest Africa, SIM missionary John S. Hall claimed “the 10 or more millions of pagans” in southern Nigeria were “threatened from the north, by Moslem invasion and absorption.”

SIM was boldly fundamentalist. In a book about the organization titledEvangelical Christians in the Muslim Sahel, Barbara M. Cooper notes that to be a SIM missionary one had to accept that “the Bible is the ‘inerrant’ word of God” and that “to be a Christian is to evangelize”. Interestingly, Boko Haram has listed a church SIM built in the 1930s in Kano as a target.

Northern Nigeria’s missionary and colonial history partly explains Boko Haram’s depravity. Canada contributed in a small way to the British colonial project in northern Nigeria and Ottawa played a significant role in the recent military intervention in Libya, which has strengthened Boko Haram’s hand.

Blowback. Karma. Unintended consequences. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you or they might do unto you what you did to them.

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The fairy tale about a brave Canadian general in Rwanda

Like children’s fairy tales, foreign policy myths are created, told and retold for a purpose.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf imparts a life lesson while entertaining your five year-old niece. Unfortunately foreign policy myths are seldom so benign.

The tale told about Romeo Dallaire illustrates the problem. While the former Canadian General rose to prominence after participating in a failed (assuming the purpose was as stated) international military mission, he’s widely considered a great humanitarian. But, the former Senator’s public persona is based on an extremely one-sided media account of his role in the complex tragedy that engulfed Rwanda and Burundi two decades ago.

In a particularly egregious example of media bias, criticism of Dallaire’s actions in Rwanda have been almost entirely ignored even though his commander published a book criticizing the Canadian general’s bias. According to numerous accounts, including his civilian commander on the UN mission, Dallaire aided the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which invaded Rwanda with decisive Ugandan support and quiet US backing. Gilbert Ngijo, political assistant to the civilian commander of United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), summarizes the criticism: “He [Dallaire] let the RPF get arms. He allowed UNAMIR troops to train RPF soldiers. United Nations troops provided the logistics for the RPF. They even fed them.”

In his 2005 book Le Patron de Dallaire Parle (The Boss of Dallaire Speaks), Jacques-Roger Booh Booh, a former Cameroon foreign minister and overall head of UNAMIR, claims Dallaire had little interest in the violence unleashed by the RPF despite reports of summary executions in areas controlled by them. RPF soldiers were regularly seen in Dallaire’s office, with the Canadian commander describing the Rwandan army’s position in Kigali. This prompted Booh Booh to wonder if Dallaire “also shared UNAMIR military secrets with the RPF when he invited them to work in his offices.” Finally, Booh Booh says Dallaire turned a blind eye to RPF weapons coming across the border from Uganda and he believes the UN forces may have even transported weapons directly to the RPF. Dallaire, Booh Booh concludes, “abandoned his role as head of the military to play a political role. He violated the neutrality principle of UNAMIR by becoming an objective ally of one of the parties in the conflict.”

Dallaire doesn’t deny his admiration for RPF leader Paul Kagame who was likely responsible for shooting down the plane carrying both Rwandan Hutu President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira on April 6, 1994. (That event triggered mass killing and an environment of deep instability that facilitated the RPF’s rise to power in Kigali.) In Shake Hands with the Devil, published several years after Kagame unleashed terror in the Congo that’s left millions dead, Dallaire wrote: “My guys and the RPF soldiers had a good time together” at a small cantina. Dallaire then explained: “It had been amazing to see Kagame with his guard down for a couple of hours, to glimpse the passion that drove this extraordinary man.”

Dallaire’s interaction with the RPF was certainly not in the spirit of UN guidelines that called on staff to avoid close ties to individuals, organizations, parties or factions of a conflict.

A witness at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) actually accused Dallaire of complicity in a massacre. A Rwandan national testifying under the pseudonym T04, reported Tanzania’s Arusha Times, “alleged that in April 1994, Gen. Dallaire allowed members of the rebel Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF, now in power in Kigali), to enter the national stadium and organize massacres of Hutus. Several people, including the witness, took refuge there following the assassination of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana.”

But, criticisms of Dallaire’s actions in Rwanda have been almost entirely ignored by the Canadian media. Le Patron de Dallaire Parle went largely unnoticed, or at least not commented upon. A Canadian newswire search found three mentions of the book (a National Post review headlined “Allegations called ‘ridiculous’: UN boss attacks general,” an Ottawa Citizen piece headlined “There are many sides to the Rwanda saga” and a letter by an associate of Dallaire). Other critical assessments of Dallaire’s actions in Rwanda have fared no better, including Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa and Enduring Lies: The Rwandan Genocide in the Propaganda System, 20 Years Later in which Edward Herman and David Peterson “suggest that Dallaire should be regarded as a war criminal for positively facilitating the actual mass killings of April-July, rather than taken as a hero for giving allegedly disregarded warnings that might have stopped them.”

On the other hand, a Canadian newswire search of “Romeo Dallaire Rwanda” elicited over 6,000 articles that generally provide a positive portrayal of Dallaire. Similarly, a search for mention of Dallaire’s 2003 book Shake Hands with the Devil elicited 1,700 articles.

The complex interplay of ethnic, class and regional politics, as well as international pressures, which spurred the “Rwandan Genocide” has been decontextualized. Instead of discussing Uganda’s aggression against its much smaller neighbour, the flight of Hutus into Rwanda after the violent 1993 Tutsi coup in Burundi and economic reforms imposed on the country from abroad, the media focuses on a simplistic narrative of vengeful Hutus killing Tutsis. In this media fairy tale, Dallaire plays the great Canadian who attempted to save Africans.

While two decades old, the distortion of the Rwandan tragedy continues to have political impacts today. It has given ideological cover to dictator Paul Kagame’s repeated invasions of the Congo and domestic repression. In addition, this foreign policy myth has been used to justify foreign military intervention as is the case with the current political crisis in Burundi. The myth of Dallaire in Rwanda is also cited to rationalize the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, when in fact the true story illustrates the inevitable duplicitousness of foreign interventions.

Unlike in bedtime stories, in foreign policy making things up is usually harmful.

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Using the big lie to undermine Palestinian solidarity

The big lie is a propaganda technique generally employed when telling the truth would be unfavorable to your side. It goes like this: never admit doing any wrong and instead always insist on a story that portrays your side as the good guys. What really happened is irrelevant. The key is repetition. Do it often enough and loudly enough until most people believe you.

While the big lie is most often associated with authoritarian governments, its use is actually quite widespread. For example, the Montreal Gazette recently published a front page article claiming Jewish students at Concordia University were “feeling like the target of a hate campaign.” The reason cited, as far as this writer can tell, was simply that many students were standing in solidarity with Palestinians.

At the end of November, the student group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights organized BDS Week. Without citing a single incident of actual racism, the Gazette painted a picture of the discussion series as hateful. Reporter Karen Seidman simply quoted an individual decrying “a hostile environment on campus” and another who denounced “speakers slandering Israeli tactics and spewing hate.”

In her article, Seidman also labeled a referendum held last year in which undergraduates voted to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel as “contentious” and downplayed its significance by saying only “a tiny fraction” of the overall student body participated.

So why is this a big lie?

First, the side favored is portrayed as a victim of “hate” with no evidence presented except criticism of the Israeli state causing hurt feelings. Second, and most important, the article blissfully ignores any historical background that would present Palestinian sympathizers in a positive light or even provide context for what they are doing.

It abjectly fails to even get any comment from any supporter of BDS. The reporter writes that she tried and failed to get a comment from the organizers, but it should surely not be beyond a reporter’s ability to get an alternative pro-BDS voice.

And while portraying a rather modest week of solidarity events as hateful, the reporter also ignores how a well-funded Concordia institute has engaged in an effort to erase Palestinians from historical memory.

In 2011, multibillionaire David Azrieli gave Concordia $5 million to set up the Azrieli Institute of Israel Studies.

The institute established the first minor degree program in Israel studies at a Canadian university.

This wasn’t a disinterested, apolitical donation. Azrieli, an Israeli-Canadian real estate magnate who died last year, was a staunch defender of Israel. He did not hide his affiliation, happily asserting that “I am a Zionist and I love the country.”

During the Nakba, the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine, he was an officer in a largely Anglo-Saxon brigade of the Haganah, a Zionist military force. Led by Major Ben Dunkelman, a Canadian veteran of the Second World War, the Seventh Brigade played a leading role in the infamous Operation Hiram.

Dozens of villages in the north of Palestine were depopulated and destroyed during that offensive.

The operation, initiated in October 1948, included several massacres of Palestinian villagers.

As many as 94 Palestinians were killed in the village of Saliha alone. A Jewish National Fund official, Yosef Nahmani, noted in his diary that between 50 and 60 peasants in Safsaf were killed and buried in a pit after the village’s inhabitants “had raised a white flag.”

In his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe notes that few brigade names appear in the oral testimonies that have been gathered about the Nakba: “However, Brigade Seven is mentioned again and again, together with such adjectives as ‘terrorists’ and ‘barbarous.’”

Since opening at Concordia, the Azrieli Institute has proven a potent advocate for Israel on campus.

In June, the institute hosted the Association for Israel Studies’ annual conference.

After attending the conference, the right-wing Israeli academic Gerald Steinberg described Azrieli’s $5 million donation as part of a “counterattack” against pro-Palestinian activism at Concordia.

The institute is largely designed to erase Palestinians from their historical connection to their homeland. Its website fails to even mention the word Palestine.

In a December 2014 letter to the Montreal Gazette, Nakina Stratos noted: “Browsing through the website of the Azrieli Institute of Israel Studies, I was not able to find the words ‘Palestine’ or ‘Palestinian people.’ How can an institute that teaches about the history of Israel not mention Palestine on its website? This, to me, intersects with the far-right Israeli narrative, which is a total confiscation of Palestinian history, and an attempt to erase the concept of Palestine from the dictionary of the Middle East.”

But rather than investigate how Palestinian students feel about a richly endowed university institute that erases their existence, the Gazette’s education reporter chose to focus on assertions of persecution by those who would do the erasing.

The perpetrators of oppression and their supporters instead become victims. Those who stand up for the oppressed are portrayed as bullies.

That is the big lie at work.

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