Wolfowitz at Work: The Blind Leading the Blind
Paul Wolfowitz knows the drill. Africa's oil and other natural wealth make it natural for the new World Bank president to make that continent his platform.
And that's what he did today in his first official interview to World Bank staffers during his first hours on the job. The first platform that comes to mind, however, is the kind used to suck out oil.
The story, "Wolfowitz Points to Urgent Development Agenda," makes no mention of the Democratic Republic of Congo, site of the deadliest conflict since World War II. Nor does Wolfowitz even mention the word "war," at least in the story the World Bank's own staff wrote. This is despite the fact that the current Second Congo War is even known in some circles as the African World War.
Instead, the World Bank story, because Wolfowitz himself does so, focuses on platitudinous bullshit, saying:
- Wolfowitz says he hopes his tenure at the head of the World Bank Group will see a significant change in the landscape for African nations in particular.
"Most of all I would hope that we can look back five years from now and say this really was a turning point for Africa—that some significant number of African countries really got themselves on a path of sustainable development and that their example began to lead others who weren't there yet. And that the world mobilized the resources necessary to help those countries on that path. And that the Bank played a crucial catalyzing role in all that.
"And I must say, if five or ten years from now, we can all look back and say this was the year when the whole world got on a path of sustainable development and this trend in the reduction of poverty extended beyond Asia and Latin America to encompass everyone. That would be truly satisfying."
Wolfowitz (left) has said this stuff before, like on April 1, when he declared a war on African poverty. At the time, he also denounced corruption, which he called "longstanding in many nations in Africa." Well, we'll see if he puts the World Bank's money where his mouth is. A bill shepherded by non-neocon Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would specifically tie the U.S. contributions to World Bank projects to increased transparency and other anti-corruption measures. As I've written before, the conservative Republican Lugar looks like a Commie compared with the neocons. In a story posted today on freedominfo.org, Toby McIntosh of the bank watchdog group IFTI Watch writes:
One section of the bill would commit the Bush administration to pressing for disclosure of revenues received or paid for the extraction of oil or other natural resources by governments and companies that receive [multilateral development bank] assistance.
Although most of the proposed changes would require concurrence by member countries of the MDBs, a few reforms could be implemented by the U.S. government unilaterally. Going further than he has in the past, Lugar wants to see the Treasury Department post on its web site a justification for the votes by U.S. representatives at the institutions. He also would mandate disclosure of written statements made by the U.S. government about controversial MDB projects, policy decisions, and claims brought before an inspection panel.
Lugar is even calling for more openness by Big Oil:
- Regarding extractive industry revenues, the Lugar bill says U.S. officials should encourage World Bank policies that support more disclosures and widespread dissemination of that revenue information. Lugar says these policies also should apply to state-owned companies.
No way could Wolfowitz and George W. Bush's other handlers support such a measure. So we'll see what Wolfie has to say about this bill.
In the meantime, we'd settle for some immediate help for Africans. The World Bank's current way of doing business puts pressure on the governments of poor nations to privatize and to cut social spending. The International Monetary Fund, part of the World Bank Group, has long emphasized the kind of stability that keeps corrupt regimes functioning so that Western companies can extract the continent's vast wealth. That's what we've done in nearby countries like Equatorial Guinea—help dictators loot their own people, stash their cash for them in places like Riggs Bank (when it was run by Bush's friends and family), and help Western oil companies get sweetheart deals to extract huge profits. That's different from helping the poor.
Equatorial Guinea is tiny. The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) is not: 60 million people in a country the size of Western Europe. For now, we're ignoring the tragedy that is the DRC. Here's how Sarah J. Coleman figures it for Beliefnet.org (a religious site not run by right-wing knuckleheads):
- Add up all of the American deaths in every single war we've fought in since 1776, including World War II and the Civil War (1,540,665). Now add to that the estimated deaths from the recent tsunami (169,752 confirmed dead, 127,294 missing). Next, add to that the estimated death toll in the conflict in Darfur (400,000). Then, add to that the victims of genocide in Rwanda, one of the most horrific slaughters of the 20th century (937,000).
Add all of the deaths together—and you still have a smaller number than the 3.5 million people who have died in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since 1998.
According to the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 30,000 Congolese are dying every month from the after-effects of war (mostly from diseases that have flourished in the conflict's wake), an estimated 1,000 people a day. Thirty-eight percent of the population suffers from malnutrition. Children as young as 7 have been recruited into rebel militia. An estimated 3.4 million of the country's 60 million people have been forced to flee their homes.
Among its still-living victims is the young woman from the Kivu region who's in the above photo; she was blinded by the men who raped her, according to an August 2004 story by the U.N.'s IRIN news service.
Just a few days ago, more evil, IRIN reports:
- An armed group of mostly Rwandan Hutus in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is accused of killing 18 civilians, mutilating 11 others and taking around 50 hostages on [May 23]. The army is planning operations to hunt down those responsible for killing and abusing civilians in Walungu as well as the territory of Kabare, army spokesman Lt. Kasanda Wa Kasanda, in South Kivu, told IRIN. …
[Deputy governor Didas] Kaningini added that some of victims had their limbs cut off, others were disembowelled. At least four of the wounded are admitted to a hospital in a serious condition.
MONUC [the U.N.'s mission in the DRC] said it was sending a team to investigate the attack.
But an investigation by MONUC is not necessarily a blessing. You see, everyone picks on the people of the DRC. From Coleman's story:
- What could the world community have done to prevent this human catastrophe? The prevailing wisdom in the international community, as reflected in the United Nations, is that humanitarian intervention and peace-brokering are better approaches to conflict than military intervention. Both the Clinton and Bush administrations have taken that stance toward the DRC's conflict.
Still, the United Nations has not been blind to the DRC's suffering. U.N. troops have been on the scene since 1999, when MONUC was set up as a monitoring body to oversee a cease-fire in the ongoing civil war. MONUC initially had no mandate to protect civilians victimized by the conflict. But since 2003, the U.N. has strengthened MONUC's role in quelling violence and disarming combatants, according to U.N.'s newly adopted doctrine of "robust peacekeeping." Even as some critics continue to fault the U.N. force for its relative lack of strength and size, others now have condemned aggressive behavior by U.N. troops, including allegations of sexual abuse of Congolese girls.
We may remain blind to that. But what U.S. policymakers see are the oil, gold, and forests our corporations can extract. Three years ago, before the Iraq war consumed us, Mike Crawley of the Christian Science Monitor peered into the sludge of the Africa-oil lobby and examined the idea that development interest could really help Africans. Crawley wrote:
- In theory, the growing American interest could help develop one of the poorest regions on the planet. But oil creates few jobs for local people, and the wealth rarely spreads itself across the society, says Gavin Hayman of Global Witness, a London-based group that monitors resource extraction and human rights in developing countries. "The states that find oil tend to show regressive levels of development, where oil revenues go up and humanitarian indicators go down," says Mr. Hayman.