Tag Archives: Congo

Canadian wars more about imperialism than ‘defending democracy’

Now that November 11 and the official “remembering” of our “heroes”, their “bravery” and “greatness” is over, it is a good time to take a deeper, more critical look at Canada’s participation in wars.

While on Remembrance Day we are told to  “thank a soldier for your freedoms” and the commemorations talk about “defending democracy”, the reality of wars’ connections to colonialism, imperialism, and oppression are ignored.

A Global News story about Nova Scotia university students visiting Canadian World War II soldiers’ graves in West Africa highlights the matter. The report ignored that The Gambia, where the Canadians were buried, was a British colony at the time and that Canadian forces legitimated European rule in Africa during the country’s only ‘morally justifiable’ war.

(Nazi expansionism’s threat to British interests, not opposition to fascism or anti-Semitism, led Ottawa to battle but WWII was ultimately justifiable.)

During the Second World War Canadians fought by land, sea and air in colonial Africa. Describing a support mission in 1943 a Hamilton Spectator headline noted: “Canada Supplied 29 Ships and 3000 of Her Sailors for North African Action”. Many Canadian fighter pilots also operated over the continent. “During the Second World War,” notes Canadian African studies scholar Douglas Anglin, “considerable numbers of Canadian airmen served in R.A.F. [Royal Air Force] squadrons in various parts of the continent, particularly North Africa.” More than a half-dozen Canadian pilots defended the important Royal Air Force base at Takoradi, Ghana, and others traveled there to follow the West African Reinforcement Route, which delivered thousands of fighter planes to the Middle East and North African theatre of the war.

After Germany invaded France part of the French government relocated to the south. The Vichy regime continued to control France’s colonies during WWII. In a bid to prod Philippe Pétain’s regime to re-enter the war alongside the Allies, Canadian diplomat Pierre Dupuy visited on three occasions between 1940 and 1941. Describing Dupuy’s mission and the thinking in Ottawa at the time, Robin Gendron notes, “for the Canadian government as for the Allies in general, the colonies had no separate existence outside of France. In practical terms, the colonies were France.” Later in the war Prime Minister Mackenzie King expressed a similar opinion regarding Britain’s colonies. “In December 1942,” Gendron reports, “King informed the British Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs that colonial policy must remain the responsibility of the colonial powers, and he reiterated this position in late 1944 when the British government asked for Canada’s input on the latest proposals for the postwar settlement of colonial issues.”

Without Canada’s major contribution to WWII Britain and France may not have held their African colonies. And during World War I, which is the origin of Remembrance Day, Canadians helped the British, French and Belgians expand their colonial possessions in Africa. As I detail in Canada and Africa: 300 Years of Aid and Exploitation, Canada was modestly involved in two African theatres of WWI.

In the lead-up to the Great War hundreds of Canadians, usually trained at Kingston’s Royal Military College, fought to help Britain (and the Belgian King) conquer various parts of the continent. Canadians led military expeditions, built rail lines and surveyed colonial borders across the continent in the late 1800s and early 1900s. More significantly, four hundred Canadians traveled halfway across the world to beat back anti-colonial resistance in the Sudan in 1884-85 while a decade and a half later thousands more fought in defence of British imperial interests in the southern part of the continent.

If we are going to learn anything from history, Remembrance Day commemorations should include discussion of Canadian military support for European colonialism in Africa and elsewhere. To really understand war and its causes, we must take a look at its victims as well as its victors.

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Filed under A Propaganda System, Canada in Africa

Canada’s ‘peacekeeping’ mission killed an African independence hero

Fifty-six years ago this month the United Nations launched a peacekeeping force that contributed to one of the worst post-independence imperial crimes in Africa. The Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC) delivered a major blow to Congolese aspirations by undermining elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. Canada played a significant role in ONUC and Lumumba’s assassination, which should be studied by progressives demanding Ottawa increase its participation in UN “peacekeeping”.

After seven decades of brutal rule, Belgium organized a hasty independence in the hopes of maintaining control over the Congo’s vast natural resources. When Lumumba was elected to pursue a genuine de-colonization, Brussels instigated a secessionist movement in the eastern part of country. In response, the Congolese Prime Minister asked the UN for a peacekeeping force to protect the territorial integrity of the newly independent country. Washington, however, saw the UN mission as a way to undermine Lumumba.

Siding with Washington, Ottawa promoted ONUC and UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold’s controversial anti-Lumumba position. 1,900 Canadian troops participated in the UN mission between 1960 and 1964, making this country’s military one of its more active members. There were almost always more Canadian officers at ONUC headquarters then those of any other nationality and the Canadians were concentrated in militarily important logistical positions including chief operations officer and chief signals officer.

Canada’s strategic role wasn’t simply by chance. Ottawa pushed to have Canada’s intelligence gathering signals detachments oversee UN intelligence and for Quebec Colonel Jean Berthiaume to remain at UN headquarters to “maintain both Canadian and Western influence.” (A report from the Canadian Directorate of Military Intelligence noted, “Lumumba’s immediate advisers…have referred to Lt. Col. Berthiaume as an ‘imperialist tool.'”)

To bolster the power of ONUC, Ottawa joined Washington in channelling its development assistance to the Congo through the UN. Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah complained that this was “applying a restriction to Congo which does not apply to any other African state.” Ottawa rejected Nkrumah’s request to channel Congolese aid through independent African countries.

Unlike many ONUC participants, Canada aggressively backed Hammarskjold’s controversial anti-Lumumba position. External Affairs Minister Howard Green told the House of Commons: “The Canadian government will continue its firm support for the United Nations effort in the Congo and for Mr. Hammarskjold, who in the face of the greatest difficulty has served the high principles and purposes of the charter with courage, determination and endless patience.”

Ottawa supported Hammarskjold even as he sided with the Belgian-backed secessionists against the central government. On August 12 1960 the UN Secretary General traveled to Katanga and telegraphed secessionist leader Moise Tchombe to discuss “deploying United Nations troops to Katanga.” Not even Belgium officially recognized Katanga’s independence, provoking Issaka Soure to note that, “[Hammarskjold’s visit] sent a very bad signal by implicitly implying that the rebellious province could somehow be regarded as sovereign to the point that the UN chief administrator could deal with it directly.”

The UN head also worked to undermine Lumumba within the central government. When President Joseph Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba as prime minister — a move of debatable legality and opposed by the vast majority of the country’s parliament — Hammarskjold publicly endorsed the dismissal of a politician who a short time earlier had received the most votes in the country’s election.

Lumumba attempted to respond to his dismissal with a nationwide broadcast, but UN forces blocked him from accessing the main radio station. ONUC also undermined Lumumba in other ways. Through their control of the airport ONUC prevented his forces from flying into the capital from other parts of the country and closed the airport to Soviet weapons and transportation equipment when Lumumba turned to Russia for assistance.

In addition, according to The Cold War “[the Secretary General’s special representative Andrew] Cordier provided $1 million — money supplied to the United Nations by the U.S. government — to [military commander Joseph] Mobutu in early September to pay off restive and hungry Congolese soldiers and keep them loyal to Kasavubu during his attempt to oust Lumumba as prime minister.”

To get a sense of Hammarskjold’s antipathy towards the Congolese leader, he privately told officials in Washington that Lumumba must be “broken” and only then would the Katanga problem “solve itself.” For his part, Cordier asserted “[Ghanaian president Kwame] Nkrumah is the Mussolini of Africa while Lumumba is its little Hitler.”

(Echoing this thinking, in a conversation with External Affairs Minister Howard Green, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker called Lumumba a “major threat to Western interests” and said he was “coming around to the conclusion” that an independent Western oriented Katanga offered “the best solution to the current crisis.”)

In response to Hammarskjold’s efforts to undermine his leadership, Lumumba broke off relations with the UN Secretary General. He also called for the withdrawal of all white peacekeepers, which Hammarskjold rejected as a threat to UN authority.

A number of ONUC nations ultimately took up Lumumba’s protests. When the Congolese prime minister was overthrown and ONUC helped consolidate the coup, the United Arab Republic (Egypt), Guinea, Morocco and Indonesia formally asked Hammarskjold to withdraw all of their troops.

Canadian officials took a different position. They celebrated ONUC’s role in Lumumba’s overthrow. A week after Lumumba was pushed out prominent Canadian diplomat Escott Reid, then ambassador to Germany, noted in an internal letter, “already the United Nations has demonstrated in the Congo that it can in Africa act as the executive agent of the free world.” The “free world” was complicit in the murder of one of Africa’s most important independence leaders. In fact, the top Canadian in ONUC directly enabled his killing.

After Lumumba escaped house arrest and fled Leopoldville for his power base in the Eastern Orientale province, Colonel Jean Berthiaume assisted Lumumba’s political enemies by helping recapture him. The UN chief of staff, who was kept in place by Ottawa, tracked the deposed prime minister and informed Joseph Mobutu of Lumumba’s whereabouts. Three decades later Berthiaume, who was born in Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec, told an interviewer:

“I called Mobutu. I said, ‘Colonel, you have a problem, you were trying to retrieve your prisoner, Mr. Lumumba. I know where he is, and I know where he will be tomorrow. He said, what do I do? It’s simple, Colonel, with the help of the UN you have just created the core of your para commandos — we have just trained 30 of these guys — highly selected Moroccans trained as paratroopers. They all jumped — no one refused. To be on the safe side, I put our [Canadian] captain, Mario Coté, in the plane, to make sure there was no underhandedness. In any case, it’s simple, you take a Dakota [plane], send your paratroopers and arrest Lumumba in that small village — there is a runway and all that is needed. That’s all you’ll need to do, Colonel. He arrested him, like that, and I never regretted it.”

Ghanaian peacekeepers near where Lumumba was captured took quite a different attitude towards the elected prime minister’s safety. After Mobutu’s forces captured Lumumba they requested permission to intervene and place Lumumba under UN protection. Unfortunately, the Secretary-General denied their request. Not long thereafter Lumumba was executed by firing squad and his body was dissolved in acid.

In 1999 Belgium launched a parliamentary inquiry into its role in Lumumba’s assassination. Following Belgium’s lead, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs should investigate Canada’s role in the Congolese independence leader’s demise and any lessons ONUC might hold regarding this country’s participation in future UN missions.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada in Africa, The Truth May Hurt

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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