Archive for the 'Corruption' Category

Africa’s Deadly Merry-go-round

Following the arrest of the notorious gun-runner Victor Bout I decided to look into his connections with the Kenyan Sanjivan Ruprah more closely and the following is what was thrown up. It’s only a partial description of the viper’s nest at the heart of the African mining and arms trade and it’s not pretty.

“you find the gap in which … less well-developed governments and military forces, require some military expertise and support … the Sandline idea was to be able to provide that … I mean obviously, in our business we keep a fairly good database of conflict or potential conflicts …” Tim Spicer, Sandline International

It’s a complex spider’s web of international companies that all have one interest – to get their hands on Africa’s mining rights. It’s naked neo-colonialism but this time carried out by a comprador class of corrupt African elite who sell off resources belonging to their people to mercernary firms in exchange for great riches and power. The vast majority of Africa’s people remain poor despite being heirs to the most minerally rich part of the world and not only that, their lives have become expendable in the rush to accumulate even greater wealth. In Angola 500,000 people died while Angola’s diamonds were used to fund both sides of the civil war and in Sierra Leone 50,000 people were massacred. In the Democratic Republic of Congo the figure is estimated to be 5,000,000.

At the heart of Africa’s conflicts over oil and gems was a South African mercenary outfit called Executive Outcomes. It remains one of the more visible mercenary companies to be employed by weakened regimes or rebel groups in regions of Africa where western mining interests were threatened.

One of the company’s first ventures was into Angola where it was tasked with recapturing Chevron and Sonangol’s oil facilities from Jonas Savimbi’s Unita rebels.

The now defunct EO was founded by Eeben Barlow a former commander of the South African Buffalo Battalion following the end of apartheid. Fellow directors of the company included Simon Mann an ex-SAS officer, and British financier Tony Buckingham. EO employed soldiers from the infamous South African Buffalo Battalion and Koevoet whose function was to assassinate anti-apartheid activists in the era of apartheid and whose motto was “Shoot to kill”.

Simon Mann is currently languishing behind bars following a botched attempt at trying to overthrow the president of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, in March 2004.

Mann was caught red-handed after his $3 million 727 landed on the tarmac of Harare Airport with 68 mercenaries on board in order to pick up $200,000 worth of arms bound for Equatorial Guinnea. Mann was held at Chikurubi maximum security prison in Zimbabwe for four years until his recent secret extradition to Equatorial Guinnea where he is expected to face further charges.

Mann initially pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted coup instead claiming that the weapons were intended for use in protecting a diamond mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He now admits, “I was the manager, not the architect, not the main man.”
Simon Mann and friends
Mann shackled.

Mann places ex-premier Margaret Thatcher’s son, Sir Mark (“Scratcher”) at the heart of the coup attempt claiming Thatcher was obsessed with how best to exploit the country’s oil riches after deposing of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema. He also accuses London-based oil dealer Eli Calil of setting him up. These allegations were due to be broadcast by Channel 4 just recently but his wife, Amanda Mann, obtained a last minute High Court injunction preventing the programme from being aired. Amanda Mann claims that his allegations have been made “under duress”. Mann’s lawyer Anthony Kerman states:

“We believe that Mr Mann’s interests could be irreparably harmed if the broadcast takes place. I haven’t seen the piece but we do believe that there may be admissions which he makes against his own interests and there may be allegations in the piece, too. [Channel 4] says that he talks frankly about the events leading up to his arrest. I’m told by other people that he may have said very considerably more than that, but that is sufficient for me to be very concerned.” The injunction prohibits the channel from broadcasting its interview because “it is not apparent he could properly consent to the interview taking place”.

Anthony Kerman is a friend of Calil and it is more likely that Mann’s revelations would land Calil in it than compromise Mann’s defence any further. Mann was surprised to learn that the lawyer his wife appointed to represent him is connected to Calil. Some of Mann’s claims implicate members of the establishment (Would hearing that one Lord Archer. “JH Archer”, that’s Jeffrey Howard Archer, was involved surprise you? But now Mann feigns bewilderment that Archer’s name and that of EU commissioner Peter Mandelson were ever raised in connection with the coup.)

Both were friends of Calil. Asked if they had any involvement Mann said, “They’ve got none at all. God knows where that came from.” So clearly frank discussions on the failed coup and it’s backers would not be welcome right now in certain quarters. South Africa and Spain are also implicated, Mann states that they encouraged him to overthrow Obiang.

Spain, the former colonial power of Equatorial Guinnea, which sought oil contracts in EQ and which has given refuge to Guinnea opposition leader, Severo Moto, says that Mann’s claims are “completely baseless”.

While I can only imagine that the likes of Buckingham and his network will be spitting blood at the thought. It is puzzling that Amanda Mann is helping to facilitate suppressing her husband’s attempts to clear his name.

The Channel 4 interview was however broadcast on 11th March 2008 following the collapse of the case in the High Court. Channel 4 reporter, Jonathan Miller, says that it was indeed the wish of Mann that the interview be broadcast. Watch here. Speaking from Black Beach Mann sings “like a canary.”

Mann has a long and colourful history involving conflicts across the African continent. He was one of Executive Outcomes movers and shakers.

Executive Outcomes becomes the first corporate army to set foot in Africa since the 19th century

Executive Outcomes was described as the military wing of Branch Energy. It is ‘arguably the world’s first corporate army… the advance guard for major business interests engaged in a scramble for the mineral wealth of Africa.’

“Mercenary companies are increasingly being hired to play a direct role in controlling or changing the balance of power in Africa. Corporations provide the funds for cash strapped client governments or rebel armies and in return they are rewarded with access to strategic mineral and energy resources.”

Mann, through Executive Outcomes, is deeply implicated in the Sierra Leone civil war. But it was a Kenyan businessman, Sanjiyvan Ruprah, that first introduced Executive Outcomes to the Sierra Leone government of Valentine Strasser in 1995. EO was tasked with driving away the Revolutionary United Front. Executive Outcomes also owned Branch Energy, Ruprah managed its Kenyan subsidiary. Branch Energy was promised diamond concessions in the Koidu mines in exchange for their services. On 22 July 1995 a 25-year mining lease over the diamond field was granted to Branch Energy.The RUF were defeated in 1996 and Ahmed Tehan Kabbah came to power following elections. Kabbah promptly cancelled EO’s contract with the government. A subsidiary of Executive Outcomes named Lifeguard stayed behind to guard Branch Energy’s diamond concessions and UN facilities in Freetown.

Branch Energy was shortly afterwards bought out by “Toxic” Bob Friedland’s Canadian based DiamondWorks (DW) company, originally known as Carson Gold. Friedland is a major shareholder in DiamondWorks through his control of Madras Holdings which holds a 21.2 percent interest. Naturally, DW became sole beneficiary of the Koidu diamond leases. A fact Friedland prefers to play down.

Tony Buckingham formerly the chairman of Branch Energy holds 125,000 share options in DW through two of his other companies, Hansard Management Services Ltd. and Hansard Trust, making him the biggest potential shareholder in Diamondworks. And yes, you guessed it! Simon Mann was right in the thick of it too, acting as DW’s chief operations officer.

In 1997 President Kabbah was overthrown by Johnny Paul Koroma’s Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and Kabbah fled to Conakry, Guinea where he remained in exile temporarily. The AFRC quickly sided with the RUF. It was at this point that the international community placed an arms embargo on Sierra Leone.

British officials then plotted with Kabbah to take back the government. As the contract with Executive Outcomes had ended the job was given to Sandline International. Unfortunately there are no prizes for taking an educated guess at who owned Sandline International. Sandline’s mission was to provide security for western business interests in Africa by propping up governments that supported their interests and overthrowing those that got in their way.

While Koroma was in power none of the mines could operate properly. The UK government under Tony Blair used Sandline to smuggle weapons into Sierre Leone in direct contravention of the UN arms embargo in what became known as the “African Arms to Africa” affair. Thirty tons of Bulgarian arms were shipped to forces backing Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, the Sierre Leonian president in exile. Sandline sub-contracted EO mercenaries to Kabbah in exchange for diamond mining rights.

In Kenya, DW had interests in the country’s gold and diamonds. Their man in Kenya was initially Raymond Moi who partnered up with Ruprah in the failed aviation company Simba Air owned by it’s associate Ibis Air (registered in Kenya and Angola) which in turn was owned by Executive Outcomes. Ibis Air’s fleet was impressive and included two MI-17 helicopters, two Hind M24 gunships, two jet fighters, several Boeing 727 transports together with a number of other small aircraft. A potent force for any embattled ruler or rebel group.

Ruprah was also a business partner of Victor Bout. It could only have been Victor Bout who flew illegal weapons into Sierra Leone under the UN arms embargo. Only Victor Bout enjoyed close relations with the Bulgarian government and had the capacity to carry those weapons. Further damning proof comes from the Bulgarian government who informed the UN that with only one exception Victor Bout’s company Air Cess was the main transporter of Bulgarian weapons to Africa. See here.

Ruprah’s tentacles prior to his Belgian arrest stretched into the Democratic Republic of Congo and reveal some further interesting connections. Ruprah had controlling shares in Little Rock Mining, Tenfield Holdings, Colliers Ventures, Sapora Mining and Intermarket which were engaged in mining around North Kivu and the diamond mining town of Kisangani. It is therefore no surprise to learn that the military chief of Congolese rebels, James Kabare, and Rwanda president Paul Kagame also had interests in those mining operations. I’ve written about Kagame and this business here.

DiamondWorks was dissolved after facing near bankruptcy in 2001 and became Energem Resources. Energem has just launched itself on the London stock market as a renewable-energy business.

Tony Teixeira is the deputy executive chairman of Energem. Teixeira you may recall was dubbed the “merchant of death” by Labour mp Peter Hain who accused him in 2000 of being involved in the illegal movement of diamonds and fuel in Angola. Interestingly, Energem have recently denied that Buckingham is or has ever been a director, actually they say it is not known whether he was ever a director! Teixeira has also challenged Peter Hain to make his allegations against him outside of Parliament. Hain was recently forced to step down after some irregularities concerning undeclared contributions

Energem owns the Kisumu Ethanol Plant which belonged to the Odinga’s. The Odinga’s company Spectre International acquired the Kisumu Ethanol Plant five days after Kanu and Odinga’s National Development Party entered into a partnership that eventually led to a merger of the two parties under Kenya’s second president Daniel Arap Moi.

Former Commissioner of Lands Mr Sammy Mwaita sold the plant to the Odinga’s for a paltry $55,000 in 2001. By June that year Odinga was minister for Energy. Odinga then struck a deal with Energem in 2003 who acquired a 55% stake in the family firm Spectre International for $2 million. The Odinga’s claim that Spectre International is wholly ownded by Energem. However, Raila’s elder brother Dr Oburu Odinga and his sister Ruth presently sit on the board of Energem and the molasses plant is now being used to produce ethanol. The firm today is valued at $100 million.

All these companies, Executive Outcomes (now trading as Aegis Defence Systems), Sandline Interational, Branch Energy, Energem (previously DiamondWorks) all these firms under their various guises are controlled by a shadowy trading group called Plaza 107 which has a suite in Chelsea, London on the King’s Road, which it shares with Heritage Oil and Gas. Energem claim that they merely rent office space on the King’s Road and have nothing to do with Plaza 107 belying the fact that much of the work is sub-contracted out to affiliates and subsidiaries of these companies. Plaza 107’s sister company in South Africa is Strategic Resources Corporation Africa.

EO was employed to protect the mining interests of Heritage Oil and Gas, a firm listed on the Canadian stock exchange and currently involved with drilling oil and gas in the Great Lakes region. Heritage’s president was one Tony Buckingham. And so it goes on and on.

Poverty is central to Africa’s conflicts. It is therefore imperative that Africa’s resources be used to develop the continent, until that happens conflicts will continue to tear the continent apart. Furthermore, what is worrying about the trend to increasingly privatise conflicts as we have seen in Angola, Sierre Leone and DRC is that as private mercenary companies become ever richer and more powerful they will be able to use this power to prop up unfavourable military juntas and despots for access to Africa’s oil and mineral resources.

Whole chunks of Africa are being handed to these private mercernaries and it’s time their activities are addressed by international bodies. A recent intelligence report states that EO gained a reputation for efficiency particularly with rulers of smaller African countries who saw the UN as slow and cumbersome with it often getting bogged down in operations that maintained the status quo rather than allowing one side to resolve the issue.

Time is running out for Africa and if nothing is done to squash private mercenary companies now Africa will continue to remain a prisoner to the greed of an elite, that sadly contains Africans who are more than happy to employ these companies to further their own interests. I have steadfastedly avoided describing these mercenary companies as “private military companies,” the new acceptable face of neo-colonialism because the new expression hides the fact that they are “dogs of war.”

Check what Jack Straw, UK foreign secretary of the time said about the PMCs “…[a] reputable private military sector might have a role in enabling the UN to respond more rapidly and effectively to crises” or “Today’s world is a far cry from the 1960s when private military activity usually meant mercenaries of the rather unsavoury kind involved in post-colonial or neo-colonial conflicts.”

Limbs hacked. Children soldiers. Failed regimes. Who would have thought that a Labour government could betray so many beyond our shores?

Just as “collateral damage” hides the dead bodies, PMCs also hides the truth that a new scramble for Africa is on.

P.S. Sandline has now gone on to acquire a new identity as Aegis Defence Systems and is currently working in Iraq where it was given a $293 million security contract. A few years ago it was involved in criminal actions involving its contractors who were shown in a “trophy” video spraying Iraqi civilian vehicles with bullets.


Russian Lord of War Arrested

While Victor Bout might be running arms to your opposition, you know he’ll also ferry arms against a U.N. embargo for you.

Oh happy day! One of the world’s biggest arms dealers was arrested in Thailand on Thursday. His name – Viktor Anatoliyevich Bout. Age: 41. Thai authorities were acting on a warrant for his arrest issued by the US who accuse him of supplying arms to Colombia, the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Al Jazeera’s Riz Khan interviews Douglas Farah an intelligence consultant and former journalist who wrote “Merchant of Death”, a book based on Bout.

Russia’s RSI Novosti reports

Moscow may request the extradition of Russian businessman Viktor Bout, arrested in Thailand at the request of U.S. authorities on charges of illegal arms trading, a Russian law enforcement source said on Thursday.

“At this time, Russia is awaiting investigation materials from Thailand…After that, a decision to request extradition may be taken,” the source said.

If this happens Bout might walk free as the present US administration is anxious to please the new Russian regime and is not fully committed to acting on the US extradition request.

He flew frozen chickens from South Africa to Nigeria and Belgian peace keepers to Somalia.

His planes delivered French soldiers to Rwanda after the genocide and United Nations food aid to some of the crises his weapons had helped to create.

In 1997 his planes flew Mobutu Sese Seko, the dictator of the Congo, to safety as rebels closed in on him. Bout had armed the rebels.

He’s conducted business with both the US and UK governments. “In an age when the U.S. president has divided the world into those who are with the United States and those who are against it, Bout is both“, supplying arms to both sides of a given conflict which has earned him the moniker ‘the merchant of death’.

Bout’s real money came when he realized he could fly lucrative commercial cargo on the flights back from the weapons deliveries. His most profitable enterprise was flying gladiolas purchased for $2 in Johannesburg and resold for $100 in Dubai.

He has links to every conflict going on in Africa – Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Uganda and Kenya – to name but a few countries.

Bout was formerly a Soviet military office who built his fortune in the chaos following the breakdown of the USSR by buying up old Soviet military aircraft and weaponry from desperate arms suppliers. The main supplier being Ukraine. Desperate for hard currency the Ukraine sold off Soviet weaponry to whoever would buy. Viktor Bout helped to move and sell the product and soon the world was awash in weapons.

United Nations investigations placed him at the centre of an elaborate network of logistics and aviation companies delivering weapons to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among other countries.

Johan Peleman, an arms trade expert who works for the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, said many of Mr Bout’s aircraft were operating in Africa but in some cases “he has either sold them or sub-leased them for longer periods of time”, making it more difficult to link him to operations.

“Planes landing in Somalia look familiar. Some of his front-men remain active in the Great Lakes region. I still see a number of aircraft registered in Sao Tome and some in Angola that used to be his,” Mr Peleman said.

Most recently, he added, law enforcement agencies had been investigating possible ties between companies associated with Mr Bout and militant groups in Nigeria, whose sophisticated weaponry has made it difficult for the federal government to re-establish control over the oil-producing Niger delta.

One Russian arms trade expert speaking on condition of anonymity said Mr Bout had been free to live in Moscow because “there were a lot of accusations but no proof. He is a transporter. He is like a taxi driver. A taxi driver can drive someone carrying suitcases. It’s not his duty to know what’s in the suitcases.”

Viktor Bout - merchant of death
“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

The photo above is one of the rare photos of Bout in circulation prior to his recent arrest and was taken for a NYT article written by Peter Landesman. Bout agreed to be interviewed by Landesman because he had things he wanted to get off his chest.

One night Landesman got a call at his hotel from an anonymous source asking him to meet at a McDonald’s in Pushkin Square, Moscow. The source put to him the idea that Bout had become the fall guy for a conspiracy involving Russia and the newly independent Soviet republic – Ukraine.

The source encouraged Landeman to view Bout from the following perspective:

He said to imagine the structure of arms trafficking in Russia like a mushroom. Bout was among those in the mushroom’s cap, which we can see. The stalk is made up of the men who are really running things in Russia and making decisions. Looking from above, he said, you never see the stalk. (Landesman)

Among those in the metaphorical mushroom cap was a Kenyan Asian who was arrested in Belgium in connection with supplying arms to Liberia in 2002. Sanjivan Ruprah described as a diamond dealer (who profited from Sierre Leone’s blood diamonds) was on a US list of most wanted men and and one of the world’s most notorious arms dealers. Ruprah was also the partner of Viktor Bout. According to Belgian researcher Tim Raemaekers they both held a substantial stake in a diamond business in Kisangani, DRC, and enjoyed diamond concessions in Banalia, DRC

Both he and Bout also enjoyed a covert relationship with US Feds since long before 9/11. According to a report submitted to the UN Security Council in 2002 his interests also included mining interests in Kenya.

Damien Hirst Diamond Skull worth £50 million
Conspicuous Consumption – Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God

Damien Hirst said in a recent documentary on the making of this grotesque diamond skull that he was careful to source conflict-free diamonds, an impossibility due to the fact that most diamonds coming on the market are coming from places like DRC. The construction of the skull also caused a shortage on the diamond market in 2006 which inevitably created demand. “Ladies and gentlemen, it would be irresponsible to circumvent the fact that it is highly problematic, if not unfeasible, to work out a system in order to control the flow of rough diamonds around the world. The reality is that once diamonds are mined there is almost nothing one can do in order to prevent them from reaching the market. No certification scheme can truly be reliable, not only because war-torn areas are by definition disorganized, but mainly because it is intrinsically impossible to distinguish between good and bad diamonds. Misguiding traders and consumers with untrustworthy guarantees would inevitably be demystified over time.”

Continued… The UN reports states:

A Kenyan national named Sanjivan Ruprah plays a key role in Liberia’s airline registry and in the arms trade. Before his involvement in Liberia, Sanjivan Ruprah had mining interests in Kenya, and was associated with Branch Energy (Kenya). Branch Energy owned diamond mining rights in Sierra Leone, and introduced the private military company, Executive Outcomes to the government there in 1995. Ruprah is also known as an arms broker. He has worked in South Africa with Roelf van Heerden, a former colleague from Executive Outcomes, and together they have done business in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere. Ruprah was once in charge of an airline in Kenya, Simba Airlines, until investigations into financial irregularities forced the company’s closure.

If this wasn’t interesting enough, Branch Energy is a sister company of Energem Resources previously known as DiamondWorks. Both are companies that Odinga has ties to. As Minister for Energy, Odinga handed contracts to Energem to import oil for Kenya and pushed Kenya into rapacious oil deals with Sudan.

Energem Resources is presently owned by a couple of arms-dealers. One Tony Teixeira, a South African arms dealer of Portuguese descent who coincidentally has links to the molasses factory in Kisumu originally owned by the Odinga’s firm Spectre International. These are glaring irregularities which have not been fully explained by the Odinga’s.

It is significant that the Odinga family business, Spectre International Ltd, acquired the then state-owned Kisumu Molasses Plant soon after Raila started politically cooperating with Moi.

[Spectre – a ghost. something unpleasant or dangerous imagined or expected: the spectre of nuclear holocaust Concise Oxford English Dictionary]

Raila has consistently argued that the acquisition of the molasses plant was a pure business deal which had nothing to do with politics, but his critics point out at the coincidence between the time his family acquired the parastatal and Raila’s shift of political alliance. It is highly unlikely – indeed one may even say impossible – that the Moi government would have sanctioned the Kisumu Molasses Plant deal at the time if Raila had not become an ally of Moi’s.

[…]Soon after taking over the plant from the government, Raila struck a lucrative deal with Energem whereby the Canadian firm bought 55 per cent of the Kisumu Molasses plant. Sources say that the Odinga family was paid over US$ 5 million (about Kshs 420 million) to relinquish the control of the molasses plant. The Odinga family had paid only Kshs 3.6 million for the property.

The sale of the plant to Teixeira’s Energem was made shortly before Odinga’s National Development Party entered into a partnership with then ruling party, Kanu. Teixeira now also owns a controlling stake in Spectre. Two members of the Odinga family sit on its board of directors. Spectre International is also a major funder of the Orange Democratic Movement.

It will be very interesting to see how much more the world is going to learn about the men who have helped to destabilise countries across Africa if Viktor Bout remains behind bars. This article is the bomb and lists the activities of USAID and US corporations who are engaged in extracting resources from the Democratic Republic of Congo resources. More to follow no doubt…

Revealed: The trap that lured the merchant of death


[…]While Bout’s exploits as an arms dealer of choice to a host of unsavoury regimes and groups appears largely beyond dispute, what is more puzzling is how he got away with it for so long. The answer, according to many long-time Bout experts, intelligence officials and US government sources, is that there exists a strong circumstantial case that his ability to get into the world’s most troubled regions and deliver exactly what he promised on time and at the promised cost made him an invaluable ally to more powerful interests than African warlords and diamond smugglers.

Alex Yearsley of the London-based Global Witness, the organisation that led the charge against both Bout and his partners for trading weapons throughout Africa, often in exchange for contracts for natural resources, believes his ability to evade arrest reflected not simply a lack of will by certain nations but a crass exercise in realpolitik.

‘Due to the complicity of members of the [five permanent members on the United Nations] Security Council in the conflicts that Bout armed, on both sides, there were always politically expedient excuses not to arrest [him] earlier,’ he says. ‘He ran an operation that always had plausible deniability. If his planes got caught delivering weapons to rebel movements or sanctioned regimes, they could always claim he was a rogue businessman. On several occasions when he was about to be arrested by one government another government would find a use for him.’

Bout’s activities fell under increased scrutiny over the past five years, particularly after the revelations that he had been given contracts to serve the Iraqi occupation. UN travel sanctions and moves by the US Department of Treasury to freeze his assets and complicate his business operations limited his business, according to US government documents. But based in Moscow, Bout was able to continue operations until his arrest. Yearsley echoes many observers when he says it appeared he was under the protection of the Russian government.

‘He seemed to have a very high level of protection in Russia, living there a happy and a free man despite Interpol ‘red’ notices and Belgian arrest warrants. [This protection] makes a mockery of Russia’s justice system. He was used by [Vladimir Putin] to wind up the Western liberals and make some Russian generals rich,’ he said.

In a meeting last autumn, one European intelligence official who had worked on a long-running investigation into Bout’s activities in Africa was openly cynical that he would ever be caught. ‘Arrest Bout? Nobody wants to. Even my own government eventually shut us down. There’s been a decision to hassle him with sanctions to keep him in line but everyone needs him at some point, or might [need him]. Plus he’d just be replaced by someone else and they could be worse,’ the official said.

‘As long as he stays quiet and remains useful, he can do this indefinitely.’

In the end it was an agency of one of those states suspected of turning a blind eye to Bout’s activities that was the engine behind his capture. According to a source with close ties to the DEA, the operation was so sensitive it was kept secret from other members of the US intelligence community, including high-ranking members of the Justice Department, precisely because of the fear that Bout might be tipped off by elements that the DEA agents feared had protected him in the past. A special unit was set up to run the operation due to ‘war on drugs’ legislation and guidelines, allowed to operate outside the normal protocols that require US government-wide notification.

Few people, even in the closed world of US intelligence, knew the DEA was tracking Bout, let alone setting him up for an arrest. ‘[The DEA] was laughing at the CIA in their offices,’ because they had arrested someone that was perceived to be working for the agency, said one witness.

The strong suspicion that elements in US and other Western intelligence services supposed to be pursuing Bout were occasionally protecting him – no evidence suggests an official policy to protect Bout – is supported by an American diplomat who had tracked Bout as part of investigations into the trade in Russia’s post-Cold War arms stockpiles.

The diplomat described how efforts to track or harass Bout in the late 1990s and early 2000 by small-arms control experts at the State Department would eventually draw the ire of certain CIA officials, resulting in angry phone calls to the diplomat’s superiors demanding that they back off. But the diplomat was emphatic that he did not believe the agency actively or officially worked alongside Bout, but rather traded information with him, making him a useful, if unappealing, occasional asset.

‘I sense they were just as shocked as the rest of us when the bastard was found flying into Baghdad [on behalf of the US government],’ he said of the CIA.

Farah, meanwhile, believes that Bout’s willingness to work with Islamic organisations such as Hizbollah and the Islamic Courts in Somalia, considered an al-Qaeda ally by American officials, probably helped speed his demise.

‘I think Bout was arrested now for several reasons: he was no longer useful to the United States and was an embarrassment … he had shown a willingness to work with those directly opposed to US vital interests,’ Farah says. ‘This, in the end, moved at least a portion of the US law enforcement and intelligence community to make him a high priority target, something he had not been for many years.’

Afterword: Going back to mushroom metaphors; it might be great news to hear that Bout is behind bars finally but the arms trade is not going away as the structure remains – the Antonov planes, the arms pipelines and the organisation are still in place, like mushroom mycelium ever present underground even when the mushroom is dead.

Related: On Kagame and other disinterested observers

Oh and by the way – Nicholas Cage’s character in the film Lord of War was based on him.

John Githongo talks on Kenyan Corruption

John Githongo made his name as a journalist who was keen to expose corruption. Githongo says he was initially naive about Kibaki’s corruption. He knew Kibaki was a very rich man but accusations of corruption can be made against the entire political class. He calls corruption “the obsession with zeroes” first you want 10,000, then you want 100,000 and so on.

John Githongo talks to Owen Bennett-Jones this week on The Interview – March 1st.

In the Kenya of President Daniel Arap Moi, he had plenty of targets.

When Mwai Kibaki won the 2002 elections, Kenyans thought a new era had come and John Githongo accepted a job as President Kibaki’s anti-corruption czar. But when he tried to expose corruption in President Kibaki’s own government, he found it hard to make anyone listen. Two years on, no one has been brought to justice for his allegations.

So what does this say about Kenya today? And how much has corruption got to do with the country’s current troubles?

Listen here

What is happening to the Ogiek?

One of the first communities to be affected by Kenya’s post-election violence were the Ogiek. They have valiantly put up a struggle against enforced evictions from their ancestral lands by the government but this latest debacle saw them being chased from their homes by government forces. They have reported police killing and raping their people and death threats against their leaders and all because they supported Raila Odinga, the opposition leader.

Timsales, a Kenyan timber company in which the Kenyatta family have a substantial stake, immediately tried to take advantage of the situation.
Mau loggersMau Loggers

…two lorries with timber-trailers, which rumbled through the area, carried not only the chainsaw wielding lumber-crew, but also 20 policemen with automatic weapons, who were hired to protect the alleged timber thieves.

Though Timsales, in which the Kenyatta Family and their most famous heir Uhuru Kenyatta have substantial stakes, had earlier – together with two other companies – been exempted by the former government from the general ban on hardwood felling, the Kenya Forest Service, a newly established parastatal entity, which has succeeded the corrupt governmental forest department, stated today, that since its takeover no licenses for hardwood harvesting had been issued. A representative of Timsales Ltd. could not be reached for comment.

Timsales, it is believed by the local people, just tried to utilize the present political turmoil and the general confusion to illegally cut hardwood trees from the forest.

But the swift response of the Ogiek guards stopped the operation and together with local elders and leaders the lorries and their team as well as the police-escort could be peacefully convinced to leave the area, whose people also are grievance-stricken due to most recent killings and atrocities committed by security personnel and invaders from neighboring communities.

Odinga has promised to make sure these people are not forced out of their land and was made an honorary leader by them recently. The Ogiek had wanted assurances that they would not be barred from living in the forests.

The Ogiek are hunter-gatherers who live in the Mau forests, their primary activity is keeping bees. Ogiek literally means “the caretaker of all plants and wild animals.” They are one of Kenya’s most marginalized people. The Ogiek lifestyle is intimately tied to the eco-system in which they live as they have done for centuries by gathering fruits, herbs and honey that they collect in the forests. These forests are being cut down by loggers for timber and forest is giving way to coffee growers and subsistence farmers who also destroy forest for charcoal. Much of the land is owned by government officials. Destruction of this eco-system will result in their way of life being destroyed too. The government claims that the Ogiek are responsible for environmental degradation of the forests which is not true. Their way of life makes them the most environmentally aware community in Kenya.

Conifers which are a poor substitute for Kenya’s diminishing forests are being planted but these are dead woodlands in which not much can exist, unlike Kenya’s original bio-diverse forests which are sadly disappearing at an alarming rate. The Mau forests play a central part in the ecology of the Rift Valley and are regarded by environmentalists as a major water tower. The deforestation of these forests is linked to the droughts Kenya has been experiencing. Some 2 million people live in this region and are dependent on the hills for water.

“Globally, something like 62 percent of precipitation occurs over land as a result of evapo-transpiration from lakes and wetlands and dense vegetation, in particular forests pumping water held in the soils, into the air. In comparison only around 38 percent of precipitation is generated over oceans and seas.”

The honey and fruit which afforded the Ogiek a life in which they enjoyed freedom and happiness is becoming scarcer. Kenya’s post-election violence has seen the Saboat Liberation Defence Force (SLDF) attack and chase this community of some 20,000 people away. Death threats have been sent to it’s leaders. The SLDF are a sub-group of the Kalenjin. They are a militia armed with automatic rifles and seek greater control of the land through force. They have attacked not only the Ogiek but other ethnic groups in the region. Militias have been formed to counter the SLDF these include ‘Janjaweed Militia’, the ‘Moorland Defence Forces’ and the ‘Progressive Defence Force’ which are apparently linked to rival politicians.

Some reports allege that the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF), a shadowy militia group active in and around the Mt Elgon region of western Kenya, has joined with their Kalenjin cousins. It has been engaged in its own campaign against so-called non-indigenous tribes. Many Luhyas, Kikuyus and members of other tribes have been attacked, over 600 have died and 60,000 have reportedly been displaced in this two-year old conflict. The SLDF is now the most powerful and best-armed militia group operating in the west. Its hit-and-run attacks from the Mt Elgon forest are a major challenge for the authorities, who appear incapable of quelling the rebellion. The group is officially headed by a man called Wycliffe Matakwei Kirui Komon, but there is speculation the real leader is a newly elected ODM parliamentarian from the region, though he has denied any links.

The SLDF seeks to evict non-indigenous people because it considers the region belongs to them and the KAMATUSA (an abbreviation of the Kalenjin, Maasai, Turkana and Samburu tribes) – a coalition of largely pastoralist tribes of the Rift Valley that share a common linguistic and cultural heritage. The group is allegedly now arming and training the Kalenjin warriors and receives their support in an attempt to take control of the Luhya-dominated district of Trans Nzoia, which produces the bulk of Kenya’s maize. Sabaot militants believe a future Rift Valley state within federal Kenya is incomplete without Trans Nzoia. The SLDF’s main ambition is to carve the agriculturally important Trans Nzoia away from Western Province and annex it to the Rift Valley. Their violent campaign seeks to cause mass displacement of non-Sabaots and non-Kalenjins, in the hope that a friendly central government will eventually legitimise facts on the ground. Crisis Group interview, Kitale residents, January 2008 – pdf


This pattern of displacement from the soil through violence is repeated across Africa and the so-called third world. Something like 80% of the worlds urban population now exist in urban slums. It would be a great tragedy if the Ogiek who have lived in the Mau Forests for over 20,000 years and have maintained this lifestyle as radical ecologists were forced to give up the immense knowledge of Kenya’s forests for life in Kenya’s slums.

What use are they as factory operatives, should they be so lucky to find such work, when their knowledge and wisdom is something that no other has?

An enlightened leadership would pick the brains of the Ogiek on what can be done to save Kenya’s forests. In fact any ecological measures taken to save the Mau forests must work with local people. Instead Kenya’s leadership turn a blind eye to their plight as the Ogiek flee the only life they have ever known. Kenyan elites see such disruptions to the social fabric of communities with roots to the land as merely a land buying opportunity.

We need to recognise the value of people like the Ogiek, they are Kenya’s medicine men with an intimate knowledge of the medicinal properties of the plants and trees of the Mau Forest, a knowledge that should not be lost for the sake of future generations and we need to treasure them. They can teach us so much in a world where environmental damage in pursuit of profit is carried out with no head to those it affects. Why are we we just bowing to a tiny elite throwing away finite resources forever?

Truly how many middle-class families can we create from a lifestyle based on the damage of the environment, community and families? Such limited aspirations have led to 80% of the world’s urban poor living in slums – is this really a price worth paying?

Support the Ogiek

If you would like to express your support for the Ogiek, here is a prepared letter you can use to do so. Send it to — in turn, it will be sent off to a number of Kenyan and International officials. If you’d rather send it to the officials yourself, here is a list of addresses.


Your Excellency:

I am writing to express my concern about the continued harassment of the Ogiek, an indigenous plant- and honey-gathering and hunting people that have lived in Kenya’s Mau Forest for hundreds of years.

For decades, the Ogiek have fought with first the British colonial and then the Kenyan government over their rights to inhabit their traditional homelands (e.g. in East and South West Mau Forest, Mount Elgon Forest etc.). They have all along sought the recognition of this area as their ancestral land.

After years of dispute, authorities have continuously refused to recognize this heritage as Ogiek land and instead ordered the Ogiek to leave the forest, saying that they had been allocated separate land years ago but had abandoned it. The Ogiek know that they have a right to live in their ancestral homeland and that the former government wanted to give the land to private individuals rather than to conserve it for the benefit of the Ogiek and the entire nation. On February 16, 2001, the former government announced through the official Kenya gazette that some 147,000 acres of Mau Forest would be excised to settle the landless. This move effectively would remove approximately 70 percent of Mau Forest from the legal control of the Forest Act and leaves the Ogiek land vulnerable to invasion by land speculators and grabbers.

I am particularly concerned about the latest, brutal evictions in Feb./March 2005, which were only stopped by a court injunction on 02 March 2005 and the atrocities and eviction committed against the Ogiek by your armed forces in June 2005 despite two High Court injuctions. We ask that you do everything in your power to ensure that the parliamentary order is refined, spare the Ogiek and that similar intrusions into their traditional lives as conservators of the forests never can take place any more under your governance. The Ogiek are also concerned about the ongoing illegal logging by outsiders in the Mau Forest which is destroying their cultural and hunting grounds.

The Ogiek community does not pose an environmental threat to the forest or the wildlife. The real environmental threat to the Mau Forest came from the former Kenyan government, which was allowing logging companies to cut down trees in the Mau Forest. Still many of Kenya’s protected forests have been illegally sold or given to developers. The former government imposed a partial logging ban which exempts three big logging companies: Pan African Paper Mills, Raiply Timber, and Timsales Ltd. The three firms were exempted because Raiply and Timsales claim to employ over 30,000 Kenyans, while Pan African Paper Mills (a 50% Worldbank owned entity) was exempted because “the government has shares in it and it was said to be important to the economy.”

Thus, while the government allows powerful logging companies to cut down trees in the forest, it is persecuting an indigenous people who pose no environmental threat and lack political power. However, we are pleased that your government said on July 6, 2001 that it had banned logging in the forest, and we ask that you ensure that illegal logging in the Mau Forest stops.

Please do everything in Your Excellency’s power to guarantee that your government will respect the rights of this minority people by allowing them to retain their natural habitats and halting the de-gazettement and allocation of land in Mau Forest to outsiders in perpetuum. Also a suit the community has filed in the High Court still has not rendered a final decision, which under wise judges only can come out pro Ogiek.

In addition, I respectfully ask that you do all that is necessary to stop the wanton destruction of Mau and Mount Elgon Forests. Thank you for your time. I look forward to your response. Please keep me informed.

[your name, affiliation, and country]

More on the Ogiek Land Question

Survival is currently helping the Ogiek fight for their land.