brad brace

10/31/2008

Sandy Springs in Congo

Filed under: capitalism,congo,human rights,military,resource,sri lanka,usa — admin @ 5:53 am

Another glimpse of a disaster-apartheid future can be found
in a wealthy Republican suburb outside Atlanta. Its
residents decided that they were tired of watching their
property taxes subsidize schools and police in the county’s
low-income African-American neighborhoods. They voted to
incorporate as their own city, Sandy Springs, which could
spend most of its taxes on services for its 100,000 citizens
and minimize the revenue that would be redistributed
throughout Fulton County. The only difficulty was that Sandy
Springs had no government structures and needed to build
them from scratch-everything from tax collection to zoning
to parks and recreation. In September 2005, the same month
that New Orleans flooded, the residents of Sandy Springs
were approached by the construction and consulting giant
CH2M Hill with a unique pitch: Let us do it for you. For the
starting price of $27 million a year, the contractor pledged
to build a complete city from the ground up.

A few months later, Sandy Springs became the first “contract
city.” Only four people worked directly for the new
municipality-everyone else was a contractor. Rick Hirsekorn,
heading up the project for CH2M Hill, described Sandy
Springs as “a clean sheet of paper with no governmental
processes in place.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
reported that “when Sandy Springs hired corporate workers to
run the new city, it was considered a bold experiment.”
Within a year, however, contract-city mania was tearing
through Atlanta’s wealthy suburbs, and it had become
“standard procedure in north Fulton.” Neighboring
communities took their cue from Sandy Springs and also voted
to become stand-alone cities and contract out their
government. One new city, Milton, immediately hired CH2M
Hill for the job-after all, it had the experience. Soon, a
campaign began for the new corporate cities to join together
to form their own county. The plan has encountered fierce
opposition outside the proposed enclave, where politicians
say that without those tax dollars, they will no longer be
able to afford their large public hospital and public
transit system; that partitioning the county would create a
failed state on the one hand and a hyperserviced one on the
other. What they were describing sounded a lot like New
Orleans and a little like Baghdad.

In these wealthy Atlanta suburbs, the long crusade to
strip-mine the state is nearing completion, and it is
particularly fitting that the new ground was broken by CH2M
Hill. The corporation was a multimillion-dollar contractor
in Iraq, paid to perform the core government function of
overseeing other contractors. In Sri Lanka after the
tsunami, it not only had built ports and bridges but was,
according to the U.S. State Department, “responsible for the
overall management of the infrastructure program.” In
post-Katrina New Orleans, CH2M Hill was awarded $500 million
to build FEMA-villes and was put on standby for the next
disaster. A master of privatizing the core functions of the
state during extraordinary circumstances, the company was
now doing the same under ordinary ones. lf disasters had
served as laboratories of extreme privatization, the testing
phase was clearly over.

When we glance at the holocaust in Congo, with 5.4 million
dead, the clichés of Africa-reporting tumble out: this is a
“tribal conflict” in “the Heart of Darkness”. It isn’t. The
United Nations investigation found it was a war led by
“armies of business” to seize the metals that make our
21st-century society zing and bling.

At the moment, Rwandan business interests make a fortune
from the Congolese mines they illegally seized during the
war. Congo is the richest country in the world for gold,
diamonds, coltan, cassiterite, and more. Everybody wanted a
slice — so six other countries invaded.

These resources were not being stolen to for use in Africa.
They were seized so they could be sold on to the West. The
more we bought, the more the invaders stole — and
slaughtered. The rise of mobile phones caused a surge in
deaths, because the coltan they contain is found primarily
in Congo. The UN named the international corporations it
believed were involved: Anglo-America, Standard Chartered
Bank, De Beers and more than 100 others. (They all deny the
charges.)

The debate about Congo in the West — when it exists at all
— focuses on our inability to provide a decent bandage,
without mentioning that we are causing the wound. The 17,000
UN forces in the country are abysmally failing to protect
the civilian population. But it is even more important to
stop fuelling the war in the first place by buying
blood-soaked natural resources. Rwandan-backed militias only
have enough guns and grenades to take on the Congolese army
and the UN because we buy the loot. We need to prosecute the
corporations buying them for abetting crimes against
humanity, and introduce a global coltan-tax to pay for a
substantial peacekeeping force. To get there, we need to
build an international system that values the lives of black
people more than it values profit.

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