Monday, February 09, 2009

Journalist Snow Offers Alternative View of Africa

Promises to “Piss You Off” — And Delivers


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

“What’s the quickest way to piss you off?” asked independent journalist and activist Keith Harmon Snow at the start of his talk February 5 at the World Beat Center in Balboa Park. During a three-hour appearance including slides (shown the old-fashioned way on an analog projector, which delayed the proceedings briefly because one of the meeting’s organizers had to go and find one), music and a question-and-answer period as long as Snow’s actual lecture, he delivered an alternative version of recent African history that slashed such progressive sacred cows as the United Nations, international charities, Jane Goodall and Ben Affleck, saying that all of them were essentially tools of the U.S. and the government of Uganda in their efforts to gain control over the resources of sub-Saharan Africa’s richest resource prize, the Congo.

“Let’s talk about the lies about Africa and the Congo,” Snow said, quickly seizing on the combative tone he maintained throughout his talk. “The statement is there’s a lot of environmental impact [from the civil war in the Congo]. This is true. Gorillas and chimpanzees are going to disappear because of the work of some of the people in the movement to ‘save’ them. The Jane Goodall Institute is involved in the civil war in the Congo and is directly funding some of the militias on the ground that they’re ‘protecting the gorillas.’ The people who live there are often involved in the bush-meat [gorilla and chimpanzee meat] trade because there’s nothing else for them to eat because of the Western economic system.”

For Snow, the root of all evil in the Congo remains the same as it’s been since 1885, when Col. Henry M. Stanley — a reporter-turned-imperialist and not the benign Stanley of the “Dr. Livingston, I presume?” legend — took control of the area and set up a resource-extraction operation for King Leopold II of Belgium, who had claimed ownership of the Congo not in the name of the Belgian state but as his personal property. “Stanley was hired by King Leopold to extract the two most important commodities of the time, rubber and ivory,” Snow explained. “The system of exploitation involved cutting off people’s hands if they didn’t deliver enough rubber and ivory.”

Along with the exploitation of the Congolese natives, Snow said, went a propaganda campaign to “sell” the West on the justice of imperialism. Part of the campaign argued that Leopold’s personal ownership of the Congo furthered justice by stopping the Arabs from enslaving the Congolese. Another was what Snow called the “Heart of Darkness” myth (though he conveniently ignored the fact that the principal villain of Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness was a renegade white imperialist), which convinced Westerners that Africans were a bunch of primitive savages who would butcher each other if it were not for the beneficent rule of whites over them.

“As early as 1885 missionaries were sent into Africa, first to learn the languages of the area and then to translate the Bible into them,” Snow said. “If you want to assimilate a people, first you learn their language and then you take it over. In the war in the Congo, everything else has been decimated but the churches are untouched.” Showing one slide, he said, “This is where Stanley set up his ‘heart of darkness.’ I found one of Stanley’s plantations, and you can see the huge patches of rain forest that have been devastated, sometimes by the same people doing the exploitation on the plantations.”

Snow explained that by 1922 an elaborate infrastructure of machinery had been imported into the Congo by Western corporations and landowners to facilitate the exploitative system — and this remained in place until 1960, when the Congo was formally granted independence and the West destroyed much of the infrastructure and stopped maintaining the rest. Today, he added, the machinery in the plantations is decrepit and sometimes downright unsafe — but the planters keep it that way because they’re making so much money and have such a large potential labor force they don’t have to maintain it. If workers die, they simply replace them.

“There’s no problem getting technologies into the Congo,” Snow said. “The people could educate themselves if they had schools and books, which they don’t. The Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall foundations are the problem, not the solution, according to the people who live there” — at least in part, Snow explained, because their insistence on setting aside large tracts of the Congo as wildlife refuges just reduces even further the areas on which Congolese can live without having to take jobs on the plantations that will exploit and quickly destroy them.

What’s more, Snow said, this isn’t an accident. Throughout his presentation he noted that virtually all the major environmental organizations — including the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund — have board members who are also part of the corporations that are making money off the exploitation of Africa and its resources. “If you look at the board of directors of Conservation International, they’re all involved with defense companies, oil companies and mining companies,” he explained. “If you look at Santa Barbara today, you’ll hear that ‘environmentalists’ are negotiating with oil companies to restart offshore drilling — but these aren’t real ‘environmentalists.’ Likewise, the ‘conservation’ sector in the Congo is involved with the mining interests.”

Snow’s contrarian view of recent African history challenged such well-accepted “truths” as the so-called “100 days of genocide” in Rwanda in 1994, dramatized in the film Hotel Rwanda, in which members of the Tutsi tribe were supposedly massacred by the majority Hutus. The truth, according to Snow was that Rwanda underwent a four-year civil war started, and eventually won, by a handful of Tutsi leaders who settled in Uganda and cut a deal with Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda, to take power in Rwanda with the help of the Ugandan army and Museveni’s ally, the U.S.

“In 1990, the U.S. backed Museveni to invade Rwanda and started accusing the Rwandan government of genocide,” Snow explained. “In 1994 the U.S. called it ‘genocide’ but it was really a four-year war in which we backed a rebel movement. You’re supposed to believe the propaganda that it was 100 days of killing of the Tutsis by the Hutus, but the reality is the people who were responsible for the killing are the people in power [in Rwanda] today” — including current Rwandan president Paul Kigame, who according to Snow didn’t even hold Rwandan citizenship when Museveni’s U.S.-backed army installed him in power. What’s more, Snow said, before Museveni made him president of Rwanda, Kigame had been the Ugandan official in charge of Uganda’s own genocide against the Acholi people in the north of the country.

If any Tutsis were killed in Rwanda, Snow added, they were either free-lance revenge killings or Kigame’s government executing Tutsi leaders who hadn’t fled to Uganda and therefore were mistrusted and regarded as potential competitors by those who had. Snow mentioned the incident of April 6, 1994 when a helicopter containing the indigenous leaders of the Hutus and Tutsis was shot down on their way to negotiating a peace settlement, and said the CIA was responsible for this crime, which decapitated Rwanda’s indigenous leadership and set the stage for the so-called “genocide.”

“The governments of Rwanda and Uganda are absolute terrorists,” Snow said. “Most of the people in power in Rwanda now are Ugandans. Uganda is the place to look at as the center of the war in Darfur. They’re in Kenya, in Burundi and in the Congo. Uganda’s government today is a nasty enterprise. Uganda’s point in [intervening in] Rwanda was getting rid of the Hutus, and the system has totally dehumanized the Hutus. The ‘international genocide project’ is a one-way system of justice,” he added, saying that the tribunals on Rwanda have been set up to justify the Tutsis’ killing of Hutus while treating the Hutus — the real victims, according to Snow — as less than human and deserving of their fate.

Once Museveni and Kigame had tightened their control over Rwanda, they sought to gain control over the far larger, richer and more exploitable Congo, Snow said. “In 1997 the rebel movement in Rwanda invaded the Congo and overthrew the government of Mobutu Sese Seko,” he explained. “Some of the people involved were from Belgium, Israel and the U.S. … The Rwandan army marched across the Congo with U.S. forces and equipment. The U.S. military has been on the ground in the Congo quite a long time, but they’ve become more open about it since Obama came to power. There’s also a so-called ‘humanitarian’ operation that isn’t really humanitarian at all.”

This time, Snow said, their puppet was former freedom fighter Laurent Kabila, whom the U.S. and Uganda recruited to rule the Congo on their behalf — only to have him killed four years later for trying to run the Congo on behalf of its people rather than his American and Ugandan overlords. According to Snow, they chose to kill Kabila on the 40th anniversary (give or take a day) of the murder of indigenous Congo leader Patrice Lummumba, whose attempts to better conditions for the Congolese people in 1960 got him called a “Communist” in the U.S. media and ultimately killed.

In answer to the question of just why U.S. and global imperialism regards the Congo as so important, Snow showed a slide containing a “resource map” of Africa revealing the immense mineral deposits in the sub-Saharan region. His map showed Sudan as almost one enormous oil field and also indicated major oil reserves in Madagascar — and said the Congo is a convenient geographic jumping-off point to exploit those countries, in addition to its own mineral wealth. “The biggest commodity from the Congo today is cobalt,” said Snow, “which is used for ship and tank armor, spacecraft, nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors, and the man responsible for it is Maurice Tempelsman, who’s the focus of a new campaign called One Man in the Congo.”

Throughout his lecture Snow referred to Tempelsman as the lover of Jackie Kennedy Onassis — which is accurate; she started dating him after Onassis’s death in 1975 and was living with him when she died in 1994. (One Internet source also links him with Madeleine Albright, President Clinton’s Secretary of State, saying that they started dating after Jackie’s death.) Tempelsman is a dealer in diamonds and architect of the so-called “Kimberley Process,” which claims — falsely, Snow says — to authenticate diamonds from Congo and Angola as “clean,” untainted by war, exploitation and forced labor.

Tempelsman is also a major contributor to the Democratic Party and president of the American Jewish Congress, described by Web journalist Alex Constantine as “a Zionist pressure group that claims it works closely with the Israeli military,” and both Constantine and Snow claim he worked closely with the CIA to assassinate Lummumba in 1961 and install a military dictatorship in Congo that lasted until the Ugandan/Rwandan invasion in 1997. “SEC filings show that LKI [Tempelsman’s company] directors are high-rolling Zionist lawyers and investment bankers,” Snow wrote in 2007 []. “One director belongs to the law firm that once represented President Kennedy — another Tempelsman friend. LKI is also connected to the euphemistically named United States Agency for International Development (USAID).”

One set of slides Snow showed during his lecture depicted the grim conditions under which Congolese workers on palm date plantations live. Palm dates are the source of palm oil, which is in turn the world’s principal source for vitamin A. Snow’s slides showed not only the excruciating conditions under which the Congolese who harvest palm dates and process them into oil work, but also the ferocious level of control plantation owners exert to make sure they don’t keep any palm dates for themselves, including an entire paramilitary operation that regularly invades people’s homes to see if they are hiding palm dates.

“The workers work nine to 10 hours a day, with no lunch, no breaks, and their quotas are so high it’s almost impossible to meet them,” Snow said. “If you don’t meet them, they dock your pay and threaten to fire you. the workers make about $3 per month, and if they complain they’re immediately removed and their families are thrown out of their plantation-owned housing.” Snow showed a picture of a child carrying a container of water and said, “This child’s job is to walk back and forth in 120° heat and give the workers small amounts of water. This is child slavery.” Snow also showed a picture of an 80-year-old house, so dilapidated it’s little more than a frame without windows or much in the way of walls, and said this was where the plantation workers typically lived.

Snow said that during his successful infiltration of a Congolese palm date plantation, the temperature in the area in which the nuts from the palm dates are heated to extract the oil got so hot “one of my cameras malfunctioned. These guys are working under terrible conditions, are not given health care and are easily replaced. … The equipment they use is old, constantly malfunctions and is not being replaced because the owners are making so much money as it is.” The plantation owners are generally able to keep outside observers from seeing the conditions there — Snow recalled a warning he got that “if I walked down the plantation streets without a director, I’d be arrested” — and said that when a few courageous plantation workers tried making a complaint to the International Labor Organization (ILO), they found it was controlled by all-purpose Congo exploiter Maurice Tempelsman.

In addition to the low pay, horrific working conditions and omnipresent threat of replacement — it was clear the Congolese plantation owners consider their work force a disposable resource -— Snow said the Congolese are suffering from an artificially induced health crisis. He cited studies that the health and life expectancy of the few remaining Congolese who have maintained a lifestyle outside the capitalist system are far better than those of the plantation workers, and noted the grim irony that instead of allowing the Congolese access to their own vitamin A-containing palm dates, the World Food Organization (WFO), an arm of the United Nations, is subsidizing major pharmaceutical companies to provide the Congolese vitamin A products.

“Mosquitoes are all over the place,” Snow said, “and they define anyone who’s sick from malaria, tuberculosis, river blindness or yellow fever as having ‘AIDS’” — which, of course, becomes yet another pretext for a giant subsidy to major drug companies in the name of “helping” a Third World nation. “The media report some of the abuses,” Snow said, “but blame them all on the African people. … You’ll never see a story about a guy like Alvin Blattner [the owner of the plantation on which Snow took his photos]. Instead, [the coverage] is designed to help you ease your conscience by sending $20 to Doctors Without Borders.”

Snow continued for over an hour and a half of prepared presentation and a question-and-answer period that was almost as long — at times he seemed to be goading the audience into keeping it going — and merrily slashed away at various liberal and progressive sacred cows. Asked if the United Nations, virtually all of whose agencies (including UNICEF and UNESCO) he’d denounced during his talk, was “clueless or compliant” in the abuses he was describing, Snow said, “Both.” Snow also denounced the Peace Corps as “a recruiting program for the CIA” and The Nation magazine on the ground that the father of its current editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel, once served on the board of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) with Henry Kissinger.

Indeed, Snow’s description of the world’s ruling elite was so vast, conspiratorial and seemingly all-powerful that at least two audience members told him his presentation was leading them more to despair than to activism. Asked what people can do, he said he thought street marches were useless — “The only people who made a difference by marching on Washington were the Black Bloc anarchists, who actually caused damage” — he said — and instead said, “Don’t pay your taxes. Alexander Haig once said, ‘They can march all they want, as long as they pay their taxes.’”