Tag Archives: imperialism

The plunder of Africa: A Canadian connection

As Black History Month draws to an end it is important to reflect on the European conquest of Africa. Is there a connection between colonial rule and the continent’s impoverishment today? Should the beneficiaries of European imperialism pay reparations or at least acknowledge the injustices committed?

When thinking about these questions it’s important to look at Canada’s contribution to this history. For example, few are aware that a Montréaler played a key role in expanding British colonial rule across Africa.

Sir Edouard Percy Girouard rose to fame by helping Britain conquer Sudan. The Royal Military College of Canada graduate and former Canadian Pacific Railway engineer oversaw the construction of two hard-to-build rail lines from southern Egypt towards Khartoum, allowing British forces to bypass 800 km of treacherous boating up the Nile. Able to transport ammunition and guns into Sudan, the British killed 11,000 and wounded 16,000 in the final battle at Omdurman (only forty-eight British/Egyptian soldiers died).

At an 1899 dinner in this city Canadian minister of militia Frederick Borden celebrated Girouard’s contribution to the slaughter in Sudan. “Major Girouard has added luster, not only to his own name, but also to Montréal, to the dominion of Canada.”

During the 1899 – 1902 Boer War Girouard was Director of Imperial Military Railways. Afterwards he became Commissioner of Railways for the Transvaal and Orange River colonies, which are now part of South Africa.

Girouard’s efficiency in the Sudan and South Africa impressed British under-secretary of state Winston Churchill who promoted the rail expert to high commissioner of Northern Nigeria in 1906. Two years later Girouard became governor of the colony, sparking a Toronto Globe headline that read: “Northern Nigeria: the country which a Canadian will rule”.

Girouard enjoyed lording over the 10 to 20 million Africans living in the 400,000 square mile territory. In a letter to his father, Girouard described himself as “a little independent king.”

The Montréal born “king” justified strengthening precolonial authority by stating, “if we allow the tribal authority to be ignored or broken, it will mean that we… shall be obliged to deal with a rabble, with thousands of persons in a savage or semi-savage state, all acting on their own impulses.”

Local chiefs provided forced labour to construct Girouard’s signature project, a 550-km railway stretching from the city of Kano to the port of Baro. Designed to strengthen Britain’s grip over the interior of the colony, the rail line also provided cheap cotton for the textile industry in England.

After Northern Nigeria, Girouard became governor of British East Africa from 1909 to 1912. Girouard’s unchecked zeal for efforts to turn today’s Kenya into a “white man’s country” eventually prompted the Colonial Office to relieve him of his duties. When a prominent British settler confessed to the murder of an African suspected of stealing a sheep, a white jury rejected the judge’s counsel and acquitted the killer after five minutes of deliberation. London wanted the assailant deported, fearing political fallout in the UK from the judicial farce. Girourd not only refused to condemn the murder and the jury’s decision, he attempted to block the deportation.

Girouard’s indifference to this crime caused a rift with London, but it was his underhanded abrogation of the sole treaty the East African protectorate had ever signed with an African tribe that spurred his political demise. Weakened by disease and confronting an ascendant Britain, in 1904 the Masai agreed to give up as much as two thirds of their land. In exchange, the cattle rearing, semi-nomadic people were assured the fertile Laikipia Plateau for “so long as the Masai as a race shall exist.” By Girouard and Britain’s odd calculation, the agreement expired fewer than seven years later. About 10,000 Masai, with 200,000 cattle and 2 million sheep, were forced to march 150 km southward to a semiarid area near German East Africa. An unknown number of Masai and their livestock died on this “trail of tears”.

In Origins of European Settlement in Kenya, M. P. K. Sorensen describes the Montréaler’s effort to sell London on scrapping the agreement. “Girouard had to abrogate the 1904 Masai treaty and pretend to the Colonial Office that the Masai wanted to move south. At the same time he had to disguise the fact that he was acting in the interests of the settlers, some of whom had been promised land on Laikipia.” Girouard’s deception and abrogation of the treaty caused tensions with the Colonial Office, which would be his downfall.

The son of a long serving Member of Parliament and Supreme Court of Canada judge, Girouard remained honorary lieutenant colonel of the Chicoutimi-based 18th (Saguenay) regiment throughout his time in Africa. In 1903, Montreal Herald readers ranked Girouard seventh among “the tengreatest living Canadians.” A mountain in Banff National Park, as well as a plaque and building at the Royal Military College, are named in his honour. In 1985 the Gazette published an article headlined “Maybe Africa needs another Percy Girouard”.

Perhaps it is time to consider Girouard again, but in a less laudatory fashion.

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Globe story ignores Bata’s (and Canada’s) colonialist past

An elitist, nationalist, bias dominates all areas of Canada’s paper of record.

On the front of last weekend’s Style section the Globe and Mail profiled Sonja Bata on turning 90. Business partner and wife of the deceased Thomas Bata, the Globe lauded Sonja for the “many contributions she has made to Canada”, including the Bata Shoe Museum and various other establishment “cultural, environmental and social causes.” The article touched on the shoemaker’s early history and described how she “traveled the world building a shoe empire – between 1946 and 1960, 25 new factories were built and 1700 Bata stores opened.”

While the three-page spread included an undated photo of Sonja and her husband on the “African continent”, it ignored how the Toronto-based shoe company took advantage of European rule to set up across the continent. By the end of the colonial era Bata had production or retail facilities in Nigeria, Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, Egypt, Sierra Leone, Libya, Sudan, Algeria, Senegal, Congo, Tanzania, Rhodesia and elsewhere. In the 1940s and 50s, notes Shoemaker with a Mission, “the organization’s expansion was especially great in francophone Africa. As Mr. Bata himself noted, there was no country in that part of the world where his company was not established as the number-one supplier of footwear.” While “Mr. Bata” may not be the most objective source on the shoemaker, a government study just after independence found the company controlled 70% of the footwear market in British East Africa (Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania).

In a 1974 Saturday Night article titled “Canadians Too, Can Act like Economic Imperialists”, Steve Langdon describes the company’s operations in Kenya: “Bata seems to be undercutting decentralized rural development in Kenya, to be blocking African advance in other areas, and to be throwing its weight around politically — all at a handsome profit.” In a bid to subvert the establishment of a domestic competitor, the Toronto-based multinational wrote its overseas suppliers to discourage sales to its challenger and asked Kenyan government officials to intervene on its behalf.

Bata’s mechanized production methods squeezed out indigenous footwear producers all the while increasing imports of plastics and machinery, which came at the expense of local materials (leather) and employment. In the 1975 article Canada’s Relations with Africa Robert Matthews notes that Bata drained “money and opportunity from poor rural areas” to the benefit of a small group of locals and the Toronto head office.

When the post-independence Tanzanian government announced that it would acquire a 60 percent share of a multitude of major foreign firms Bata was the only hold out. The Toronto firm attempted to sabotage Tanzania’s push to acquire a controlling interest in the local company’s operations. In Underdevelopment and Nationalization: Banking in Tanzania James H. Mittelman explains: “Bata Shoes (a Canadian-based concern), for example, ran down stocks, removed machinery, supplied imperfect items, and later withdrew all staff, supposedly closing down for annual repairs! The Company refused to relinquish more than 49 per cent of its controlling interests, tried to set up a new wholesaling operation dependent on its firm in Kenya, and urged other foreign investors to fight.”

Bata’s aggressive reaction to Tanzania’s efforts aimed to dissuade other newly independent African countries from following a similar path. The shoemaker no doubt feared for its significant operations across the continent.

Bata received Canadian government support as well. In mid-1973 the Canadian High Commissioner in Nairobi visited Uganda to ask Idi Amin if he would attend the annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting taking place in Ottawa. But, the primary objective of the high commissioner’s meeting was to convince Amin to reverse his nationalization of Bata. A cable published by WikiLeaks read: “CANADIAN HIGH COMMISSIONER OLIVIER MET WITH PRESIDENT AMIN JUNE 29 TO DISCUSS GOU TAKE-OVER OF BATA SHOE FIRM. AMIN REVERSED EARLIER DECISION AND ORDERED THAT A NEW PARTNERSHIP ARRANGEMENT (51 PERCENT BATA, 49 PERCENT GOU) BE WORKED OUT.”

Through the 1970s Bata worked under the white regime in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). It broke sanctions against Rhodesia by exporting goods manufactured there to South Africa. Even more controversial, it operated in apartheid South Africa until the late 1980s. The company broke unions and blocked black workers from semi-skilled, skilled and executive positions. Listed among the “hardline defenders of investment in South Africa” in Ambiguous Champion: Canada and South Africa in the Trudeau and Mulroney years, Bata faced an international boycott campaign. During this period Sonja Bata was quoted in the Canadian media justifying the company’s South African policy and Thomas Bata proclaimed “we expanded into Africa in order to sell shoes, not to spread sweetness and light.”

The Globe and Mail is exposing its elitist, nationalist, bias in ignoring Bata’s unsavory history.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada in Africa

Toronto mining firm gives Canada a bad name

The ‘Ugly Canadian’ strikes again.

Toronto-based Kinross Gold recently suspended work at its Tasiast mine to protest an order from Mauritania’s government that unpermitted ‘expatriates’ stop working on the massive project.

The lead foreign firm in the sparsely populated West African nation has been embroiled in a series of power struggles with its Mauritanian workforce. During a strike last month union officials complained about the gap in pay between locals and foreigners. “There are 2,600 Mauritanian workers employed by the firm of whom 1,041 are permanent, costing the company $36 million, while there are 130 expatriate employees who cost $43 million,” workers’ spokesperson Bounenna Ould Sidi told AFP. Further irritating its Mauritanian staff, Kinross mostly houses ‘expatriate’ managers outside the country, in the Canary Islands.

On three occasions over the past five years the mineworkers have withdrawn their labour in a bid to force the world’s fifth biggest gold mining company to respect previous commitments to improve their pay and conditions. In 2011 the local workforce was angered by the company’s refusal to transfer seriously ill employees to the capital Nouakchott. When Kinross laid off 300 workers at the end of 2013 the union claimed it was done in violation of the country’s labour law and that one of those dismissed was still receiving medical treatment for a workplace injury. Demanding government action, the laid-off workers protested outside the presidential palace in Nouakchott 300 km away. After a multi-day sit-in the police raided their makeshift camp, arresting a dozen and injuring a similar number.

In 2010 two Tasiast employees were arrested after dumping toxic waste in an inhabited area near the mine. There was no independent environmental assessment of the multibillion-dollar mine and the Toronto-based company failed to certify Tasiast under the International Cyanide Management Code, a voluntary agreement that allows companies to demonstrate their commitment to properly manage the poisonous substance.

As with many other Canadian mining companies in Africa, Kinross has paid the country little and was accused of corruption. Last fall the US Department of Justice (Kinross is listed on both the New York and Toronto stock exchanges) launched an investigation into “improper payments made to government officials” at Kinross’ operations in Mauritania and Ghana. MiningWatch Canada and French anti-corruption association Sherpa submitted a long report detailing allegations of bribery and corruption to the RCMP and called for the police force to investigate Kinross’ apparent breaches of Canadian anti-corruption laws at its Mauritanian and Ghanian mines. Adding to the Mining Watch/Sherpa report, France’s Le Monde quoted a former member of the company’s African legal department saying, “the level of corruption was becoming grotesque.”

In March the Globe and Mail revealed that Kinross gave a US $50 million contract to a French/Mauritanian partnership even though their bid wasn’t the lowest. The Mauritanian company was owned by a former top government official and an internal Kinross document noted the company “took into consideration the stated preference of officials of the Government of Mauritania that the logistics contract be awarded to” the French/Mauritanian consortium.

Allegations of bribery have been swirling around Kinross’ Mauritania operations for years. When President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz criticized the company’s meagre payments to the treasury in 2013, Kinross reportedly hired a couple of his cousins to important positions. A 2013 Africa Mining Intelligence article detailed the close familial and political ties between Kinross and Aziz, who came to power by overthrowing the country’s first elected president in 2008. (The brigadier general won an election the next year that most political parties boycotted.)

How does the federal government react to such behavior by a Canadian company? With praise. In a webpage titled CSR [corporate social responsibility] ABROAD – Anti-Corruption and Bribery Global Affairs Canada describes how “Kinross’ commitment to human rights is implemented” through its adherence to the UN Global Compact, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the company’s code of conduct.

As a result, in many parts of the world, the face of Canada has become the ruthless multinational that bullies workers, ignores environmental standards and ‘buys’ politicians. The Ugly Canadian.

 

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada in Africa, The Ugly Canadian

New book provides real understanding of Rwandan tragedy

The Rwandan genocide — think you know the story?

Deep-seated ethic enmity erupted in a 100-day genocidal rampage by Hutus killing Tutsis, which was only stopped by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). A noble Canadian general tried to end the bloodletting but a dysfunctional UN refused resources. Washington was caught off guard by the slaughter, but it has apologized for failing to intervene and has committed to never again avoid its responsibility to protect.

In Rwanda and the new scramble for Africa Robin Philpot demolishes this version of history.

Philpot points out that while the official story begins April 6, 1994, any serious investigation must go back to at least October 1, 1990. On that day an army of mostly exiled Tutsi elite invaded Rwanda. The Ugandan government claimed 4,000 of its troops “deserted” to invade (including the defence minister and head of intelligence). This unbelievable explanation has largely been accepted since Washington and London backed Uganda’s aggression.

More than 90 per cent Tutsi, the RPF could never have gained power democratically in a country where only 15 per cent of the population was Tutsi. Even military victory looked difficult until International Monetary Fund economic adjustments and Western-promoted political reforms weakened the Rwandan government.

The RPF also benefited from the United Nations Assistance Mission For Rwanda (UNAMIR) dispatched to keep the peace. According to Gilbert Ngijo, political assistant to the civilian commander of UNAMIR, “He [UNAMIR commander General Romeo 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.”

On April 6, 1994, the plane carrying Rwandan Hutu President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian Hutu President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down. A French judge pointed the finger at Paul Kagame and the RPF. But the head of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Canadian Louise Arbour refused to investigate evidence implicating the RPF. When the ICTR prosecutor who took over from Arbour, Carla del Ponte, did look at the RPF’s role in shooting down Habyarimana’s plane the British and Americans had her removed.

Habyarimana’s assassination sparked mass killings (but no planned genocide, according to the ICTR). Five days after Habyarimana’s death an internal US memorandum warned of “hundreds of thousands of deaths,” but Philpot notes, “even though they knew that the massacres would occur and that millions would flee to other countries, the Americans devoted all their efforts to forcing the United Nations to withdraw its UNAMIR troops.”

UNAMIR would have blocked the RPF from capturing Kigali, something Washington supported to undermine French influence and to improve the prospects of North American companies in the nearby mineral-rich eastern Congo.

Rarely heard in Canada, Philpot’s version of events aligns with that of former UN head Boutros Boutros-Ghali, civilian head of UNAMIR Jacques-Roger Booh Booh and many French investigators. Presumably, many Rwandans’ also agree but it’s hard to know as Paul Kagame ruthlessly suppresses opponents, regularly labeling them génocidaire.

Ottawa has supported this witch-hunt. Philpot points to the example of a former Rwandan prime minister denied a Canadian visa: “The Prime Minister of the government that supposedly ended the genocide had now become a génocidaire. Canada had already received Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramngu with all honours in December 1994 when he was looking for funding to rebuild Rwanda under the RPF. Either Canada’s institutional memory is short and selective or, more likely, the country has a policy of supporting the RPF government at all costs.”

This book is an invaluable resource for understanding the Rwandan tragedy and countering those who cite it to justify Western military interventions.

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Why did Canada help overthrow Haiti’s government?

This is the last in a four part series leading up to the 10th anniversary of the February 29 2004 overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government in Haiti.

Why did Canada help overthrow Haiti’s elected government? That’s a question I heard over and over when speaking about Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority, a book I co-authored with Anthony Fenton. Most people had difficulty understanding why their country — and the U.S. to some extent — would intervene in a country so poor, so seemingly marginal to world affairs. Why would they bother?

I would answer that Canada participated in the coup as a way to make good with Washington, especially after (officially) declining the Bush administration’s invitation (order) to join the “coalition of the willing” that invaded Iraq in 2003. Former Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham explained: “Foreign Affairs view was there is a limit to how much we can constantly say no to the political masters in Washington. All we had was Afghanistan to wave. On every other file we were offside. Eventually we came on side on Haiti, so we got another arrow in our quiver.”

It is also worth noting that at the start of 2003 the Haitian minimum wage was 36 gourdes ($1) a day, which was nearly doubled to 70 gourdes by the Aristide government. Of course, this was opposed by domestic and international capital, which used Haiti’s lowest wages in the hemisphere as a way to beat back workers’ demands in other countries. Canadian capital was especially hostile to raising the minimum wage. One of the largest blank T-shirt maker in the world, Montréal-based Gildan Activewear was the country’s largest employer after the state, employing up to 8,000 Haitians (directly and indirectly) in Port-au-Prince’s assembly sector by 2007. Most of Gildan’s work was subcontracted to Andy Apaid, who led the Group 184 domestic “civil society” that opposed Aristide’s government. Coincidentally, two days after the coup, Foreign Affairs stated “some Canadian companies are looking to shift garment production to Haiti.”

It is also clear that some Canadian mining companies saw better opportunities with a post-Aristide government. In 2007, reported the Toronto Star, “Another Canadian-backed company recently resumed prospecting in Haiti after abandoning its claims a decade ago. Steve Lachapelle — a Québec lawyer who is now chair of the board of the company, called St. Genevieve Haiti — says employees were threatened at gunpoint by partisans of ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.”

Another reason for the intervention came out of the contempt, heightened during the country’s 200-year anniversary of independence, directed at Haiti ever since the country’s 1791-1804 revolution dealt a crushing blow to slavery, colonialism and white supremacy. The threat of a good example — particularly worrisome for the powers that be, since Haiti is so poor — contributed to the motivation for the coup. Aristide was perceived as a barrier to a thorough implementation of the free market agenda, particularly because of his opposition to the privatization of the country’s five remaining state-owned companies. The attitude seems to have been, “if we can’t force our way in Haiti, where can we?”

But one must look at the history of Canadian foreign policy to fully understand why Canada helped overthrow the elected Haitian government.

The Canadian government, from its beginning, was part of the command and control apparatus of the world economic system. At first Canada served as an arm of the British Empire, but given the country’s location as well as racial and economic makeup, it quickly became intertwined with the USA. Canada’s role over the past six decades, as assigned by the dominant power, has typically been some sort of “policing” operation, usually called peacekeeping. Since Canada has primarily been a “policing” rather than “military” power one must look to the language of policing to discover the motivations for our Haitian policy.

Over the past decade there has been much discussion of something called “pulling our weight” in external affairs. In laymen’s terms this means spending more of the country’s resources on defending and expanding the ability of Canadian capitalists in particular, but also for the system in general, to make a profit around the world. While the less sophisticated neoconservatives simply call for more military spending and a pro-U.S. foreign policy, the more liberal Canadian supporters of capitalism have been busy creating an ideological mask, called the “responsibility to protect” that will accomplish the same end.

The “responsibility to protect” is essentially a justification for imperialism using the dialect of policing instead of the old language of empire and militarism. It says there are “failed states” that must be overthrown because they do not provide adequately for their own citizens and because they threaten world order. This is the international equivalent of the “zero tolerance” (also called the “broken window”) strategy of the New York City police department. The policy is to aggressively police petty crimes in order to create an environment that discourages more serious law breaking. In the same fashion, the international community should go after “failed states” not because they threaten other countries with invasion but since they create an environment where “crime” may thrive. (Noam Chomsky has used the Mafia analogy to explain the less sophisticated, older imperialist version of this policy. Any and all challenges, even minor ones, must be met with violence until “order” is established. The “responsibility to protect” differs in form but not in substance.)

The coup in Haiti was a Canadian-managed experiment in the use of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine. Aristide was overthrown precisely because Haiti is so unimportant to the world economic system and because cracking down on it is the international economic equivalent of the New York City police cracking down on graffiti writers. Once again Haiti was an example to the rest of the world, a message from the world’s rich and powerful: “We, the 0.01%, run the world in our interests and you better listen to what we say.”

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