Asad Ismi has gone so far as to suggest that the Munk Centre for International Studies should instead be called the Munk Centre for Global Plunder and Pillage, “because that’s what they do!”Canada’s involvement in the mining industry, and that industry’s destructive practices, were recurring themes at the launch ceremony on Nov. 1 for The Ravaging of Africa a radio-documentary by Asad Ismi and Kristin Schwartz. Ismi pointed out that Peter Munk, whose $6.2- million donation helped establish the Munk Centre in 2000, is also the founder and chairman of Barrick Gold, one of the world’s largest gold-mining companies in Canada, and holder of a dubious environmental and human rights record.Barrick’s Dirty Secrets, a May 2007 Corpwatch report, investigated water depletion, heavy metal pollution, and cyanide spills caused by the company’s mining operations in Tanzania, Peru, Australia, the Philippines, Canada, and several other countries.In their most recent documentary, Ismi and Schwartz caught up with activists and politicians at the World Socialist Forum in Nairobi, Kenya to shed light on what they argue is the West’s imperialist strategy to siphon as much of Africa’s natural resources as possible.
MUNK CENTER FOR PLUNDER AND PILLAGE
The Varsity: You referred at the launch to the U.S. imperial strategy. What does that mean?Asad Ismi: The imperial strategy of the U.S. has been to launch a two-front war in Africa: the military war and the economic war.Beginning in the 1980s, U.S.’s agents, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, have carried out the economic war through structural adjustment programs that they have imposed on 36 countries in Africa. And these structural adjustment programs destroy the economies of African countries. They destroy industry, therefore employment, they destroy the medical and educational systems, so they break down all forms of social progress in those societies. They make it impossible for people to function, to be employed, to be productive. If you don’t have medical care, you can’t do anything. If you have to pay too much for treatment, you will just die. Education has been taken away so there is no possibility of getting employment in the formal sector. There is no possibility of social mobility: improving your lot, or improving your family’s lot. Improving the next generation or this one. So there is no future at all for people. That’s the economic war that the US has launched on African countries, that has broken down the economies of most of the African countries.They destroy the countries through military invasion and war, then they send in the WB and the IMF to destroy the economies. All this facilitates the corporate plunder of the economies.V: What motive drives this “imperialism?”AI: To loot the natural resources of Africa.A very good example of the 14 wars is the biggest one, which is in the Congo. The U.S. encouraged the invasion of Congo, in 1998, by Rwanda and Uganda. They are the main arms supplier to both countries, who are the U.S.’s staunchest allies in the region according to Human Rights Watch.The Congo has the world’s biggest deposit of copper, cadmium and cobalt. It has manganese, uranium, oil, gold. It has everything. A stable government would demand royalties in return for its resources, the setting up of some way to process the minerals so that they can benefit the country. Now, if you invade a country and occupy its land, then you can loot it as much as you want. And bring the resources to the West for free.That is what they’ve done with Rwanda and Uganda in the Congo, where planes fly out filled with copper and cobalt and another very valuable resource called coltan. You cannot have a cell-phone or computers without coltan. This society will grind to a halt without that mineral, which the Congo is the main source of.Suddenly we’re seeing the proliferation of cell-phones. How did that happen? How come it’s so cheap? How is it that everybody can have a cell-phone anywhere in the world? Because since the invasion, the price of coltan went down the tubes. Coltan is actually a very expensive mineral. And we should pay for it. We should pay the people of Congo a fair price. But we’re not paying royalties or taxes for it. Rwanda and Uganda are just looting it.This war in the Congo has killed more than four million people since 1998. It is a Holocaust. And yet, it is not talked about in the Western media at all.V: What they do often talk about in the media, however, is this outcry for “more aid, better aid.”AI: I don’t see any aid from the West going to Africa. All I see is looting and plundering for the last 500 years. That these plunderers and looters and killers of Africa can talk about aid is totally obscene.$148 billion are taken out of Africa every year by multinational corporations of the west paying hardly any taxes. The last time I heard about any aid being talked about, it was something like $6 billion.Even that aid is not even aid. Seventy per cent of that aid is tied aid, meaning comes with the stipulations that all of it must be spent on goods or services provided by companies of the countries providing the aid. They are effectively export subsidies.V: There was a big deal about the G8 canceling Africa’s debt.AI: Africa has already paid more than four times the amount of the debt it owed in 1980. Between ‘80 and ‘84, they were paying compounded interest rates of 20 per cent. Yet, the debts just seem to keep piling on.“Structural adjustment programs” are meant to expedite payment of debts. But they tell all of the countries to increase the export of raw materials and cash crops. The prices collapse, because all the countries end up exporting more. So they actually end up making less money. So these crippling debts just never go away.
MAKING THE DOC
V: Is it possible to fit a 500-year-old issue on a vast continent into two hours?AI: Editing is traumatic. For example, Kristin and I had agreed that the first episode would have three wars: Congo, Somalia and the war in Western Sahara. When Spain withdrew from the Western Sahara, Morocco invaded and occupied it. Western Sahara has lots of oil. Morocco wants it. If it were an independent country, it would be rich. The U.S., they’re behind Morocco, because Morocco’s monarch is a U.S. puppet.We thought it was an important story to tell, because hardly anyone knows that there has been a war going on there for more than 20 years.KS: But when I put the entire episode together, it was eight minutes over. So we had to take the Western Sahara section out.V: You must have been ambitious to go overseas to work in Africa.KS: We were initially just planning on interviewing people from the [African] diaspora in Toronto, or Africans who came touring around, to bring their issues forward. There are quite a lot of people in Toronto, so it’s not completely unreasonable. But it wouldn’t have been the same kind of documentary as we were able to make. That plan came about last year when we learned that the World Social Forum was to be held in Nairobi.AI: We realized we could do this because we have different from many African countries coming to one place, so all we needed then was the airfare to Nairobi and back. Then we started applying for funding in September.We had already been funded by the left-wing unions for the first two docs, so we just applied to the same ones, and they all gave us money. We raised twice the money we raised for the fair trade documentary.
GOOD OL’ DAYS
V: Tell us a little about your times at U of T.AI: I did my MA in international relations in ’82-’83. At that time the university and the student body were politically very apathetic. But I had some really good teachers. Robert Accinelli’s course on the history of U.S. policy from 1890-1975 actually got me interested in U.S. policy towards the Global South.That course and another on the third world had a lot to do with radicalizing me. It’s ironic, because the U of T was not a radical university. And since then, it’s gone completely downhill. It’s gone completely to the right.
V: What was your encounter with Kenyan media like?AI: KOCH FM is the first radio station in a slum in Nairobi. Sixty per cent of Nairobi’s population lives in slums. The station is actually located inside two shipping containers.The Kenyan media have to be very careful about what they say. Just a couple of weeks before we got there, [internal security] invaded the offices of the Nation, which is critical of the government, they pulled all their files out, they threw all the papers on the floor, they took their computers, and said next time, we’ll kill you.The internal security minister in Kenya, John Njoroge Michuki, was a torturer under the colonial administration. We were told he was known as the “crusher” for crushing the testicles of resistance fighters. He has given orders to the Kenyan police, to shoot first anyone they don’t like or anyone they think is making trouble, and ask questions later.V: What do you suppose would happen if you have your documentary to the commercial media?AI: I hate them. I despise the CBC. They backed the invasion of Iraq. They justified it and called the U.S. liberators, and they are complicit in the genocide of almost a million Iraqis. [A 2006 Lancet study estimated between 393,000 and 943,000 Iraqis were direct casualties] I refuse to collaborate with them in any way whatsoever.Through community radio stations in the UK, the Americas, and South Africa, and various websites it’s available on, we are reaching out to more than 50 million people worldwide. I’d say that makes us bigger than the CBC.That’s why I say, you can be as radical as you want, and you should be. So you don’t need commercial media.