News / Africa

    WikiLeaks Revelations Could Have Serious Consequences for Africa

    Liesl Louw-Vaudran of South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies says cables could impact heavily on some parts of Africa

    Darren Taylor

    The WikiLeaks website is continuing to publish thousands of United States government secrets on the internet. The classified documents reveal secret correspondence between the US State Department in Washington, DC and its 270 embassies across the globe. The revelations are embarrassing and angering Washington and governments and political leaders worldwide - including in Africa.

    In some of the communications – known as cables – American diplomats criticize some of the continent’s most prominent personalities. Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, for example, is described as “flawed” and “indecisive and closed-minded,” according to a leak reported in the New York Times.

    The Internet homepage of Wikileaks is shown in this photo taken in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010.
    The Internet homepage of Wikileaks is shown in this photo taken in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010.

    While some observers have dismissed the WikiLeaks disclosures as mostly “gossip, personal insults and innuendo,” others say some of them could have serious consequences for Africa.

    Previously secret cables, for examples, show the US government asked its envoys to gather intelligence on African United Nations representatives, including South Africa’s Baso Sangqu and Uganda's Ruhakana Rugunda; that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was prepared to risk a nuclear disaster because he was angry with the UN, and that Kenya in 2008 covertly transported Ukrainian tanks to south Sudan.

    “The WikiLeaks revelations have sent shudders through the international diplomatic community, there’s no doubt about that,” says Liesl Louw-Vaudran, the editor of The African.org, a web magazine with the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies.

    “One can’t minimize the fact that these are confidential cables and no US ambassador in any African country ever intended it to be read by the entire world. So I don’t think it’s feasible just to dismiss the leaks as gossip,” says Louw-Vaudran, who works throughout Africa, and also lectures international journalism at one of South Africa’s top universities.

    Nigeria

    Louw-Vaudran, who’s closely monitoring WikiLeaks’ publication of African-related material, says Nigeria is the “most mentioned” African country in the US cables released so far. “The US interest in especially Nigeria is entirely logical,” she comments.

    “Any country that has dealings with Africa would focus on Nigeria, number one, because it’s Africa’s biggest oil producer; the US gets a large amount of oil from there. There are the (security) difficulties with the Niger Delta – the oil-producing area. We know that oil production has been cut by almost a third in the last couple of months because of rebel activity,” Louw-Vaudran explains.

    WikiLeaks Revelations Could Have Serious Consequences for Africa
    WikiLeaks Revelations Could Have Serious Consequences for Africa

    The Guardian newspaper reports that US diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks reveal that the Royal Dutch Shell oil giant has “seconded” officials to key Nigerian ministries, giving it access to politicians' “every move.”

    Louw-Vaudran says, “That the big oil firms have close relationships – some would say corrupt relationships - with Nigerian politicians is well known. But that one specific company would enjoy such a massive advantage in Nigeria, by enjoying a presence in government ministries, is shocking.”

    Kenya

    A lot of the secret diplomatic chatter revealed by WikiLeaks focuses on Kenya. Again, this doesn’t surprise Louw-Vaudran, given that the country is East Africa’s most powerful economy and is Washington’s key ally against terrorism in the region, and “given the behavior” of successive American envoys to Nairobi.

    “The UK and the US ambassadors in Kenya are extremely outspoken, and in fact, they are quite listened to and quoted in the (Kenyan) media,” she says.

    One US cable describes Kenya as a “swamp of flourishing corruption” and other cables speak of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga with “disdain,” according to German magazine Der Spiegel.

    Louw-Vaudran doesn’t think information such as this will have a “major impact” on Washington-Nairobi relations. “Inside themselves, Kibaki and Odinga will probably be smarting for a while, but all these revelations of massive corruption schemes and who’s involved are already out there. They’ve been uncovered by Kenya’s media, and are even listed in a book (Michaela Wrong’s Our Turn To Eat).”

    A handful of anti-corruption demonstrators hold a chain during a protest in downtown Nairobi, 17 Feb 2010 (file photo)
    A handful of anti-corruption demonstrators hold a chain during a protest in downtown Nairobi, 17 Feb 2010 (file photo)

    Another cable released by WikiLeaks, according to the Guardian, contains evidence, from satellite photographs, that a shipment of tanks from Ukraine was transported through Kenya to south Sudan in 2008. At the time, Kenyan officials insisted the weapons were for its military.

    Observers say this leak is likely to further strain Nairobi’s already fraught relationship with Khartoum.

    Libya

    Secret American communiqués as revealed by WikiLeaks and reported by the Guardian show that Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in late 2009 left radioactive uranium poorly protected. That in turn raised concern that it could be stolen by terrorists, risking a nuclear disaster that could have resulted in the deaths of many people.

    For a significant period of time, the material that could have been used to make a nuclear bomb was guarded by a single soldier. Gaddafi’s motivation for acting so “irresponsibly,” according to the confidential cable, was that he was angry at the UN’s refusal to allow him to pitch his tent outside the organization’s headquarters in New York at an earlier UN meeting.

    After intense lobbying from US and Russian diplomats, Libyan officials finally allowed a Russian plane to load the uranium and transport it to safety, after initially refusing clearance for the aircraft to land in Libya.

    Louw-Vaudran describes this news as “very shocking, (but) I think African governments have long been aware that (Gaddafi) is a very unpredictable character; untrustworthy …”

    Because most African leaders consider Gaddafi to be “a bit of a liability to the continent and its image as a whole,” says the analyst, the African Union has “sidelined” him “to a degree” and limited him to a “sort of symbolic leadership role, where he hosts summits, for example, but isn’t allowed to push through his plans for a single ‘United States of Africa.’”

    Leaked cables say US officials were concerned that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi had left radioactive uranium unprotected
    Leaked cables say US officials were concerned that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi had left radioactive uranium unprotected

    In another US diplomatic wire from 2008 leaked to WikiLeaks, and seen by the Guardian, it’s said that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni feared being assassinated by Gaddafi, because the two had argued about the Libyan leader’s vision of a united Africa. Museveni was apparently afraid that Gaddafi would attack his plane.

    “Museveni’s fears may sound far-fetched, but they don’t surprise me,” says Louw-Vaudran. “I don’t think any African leader has any illusions of the type of person you’re dealing with in Gaddafi. When you see him at these summits, the way he dresses, surrounded by all these heavily armed and attractive female bodyguards – it’s crazy - and the things he says when he goes on trips to Europe are absolutely ridiculous.”

    US gathering information on prominent Africans

    According to the Guardian, cables published by Wikileaks also reveal that Washington has instructed US diplomats to gather information on various countries’ UN delegates – including African UN representatives - and collect their email passwords, credit card account numbers, frequent flyer account numbers and work schedules.

    The Guardian reports that a secret diplomatic note sent to American diplomatic missions in the name of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in April 2009 sought personal details – including fingerprints, DNA and iris scans – of leaders in Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cape Verde, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Rwanda and Senegal - including major political, military, business and religious figures.

    “It seems surprising, but I suppose that’s just the tip of the iceberg of things that we don’t know about covert operations or the (US) secret service and how it operates throughout Africa,” Louw-Vaudran states, adding, “Now many people involved in intelligence analysis will tell you that a significant portion of many countries’ – not just the US’s – embassies are people who are more aligned to secret service than foreign service … But to spy on the UN does take it a bit far.”

    China in Africa

    A US cable obtained by WikiLeaks and reported by the Guardian reveals that some African states, including Nigeria, have complained to Washington that China is “losing friends worldwide” because of its “aggression.”

    China has been pursuing close relationships with African states in recent years, offering lucrative infrastructure deals in exchange for access to African markets and resources such as oil.

    In the secret communication, a Nigerian official suggests poorer countries are being “coerced” into aid-for-resources deals. Other cables reported by the New York Times suggest some African diplomats are “suspicious” and “resentful” of China’s role in their countries.

    Louw-Vaudran says, “I think a lot of Africans have got suspicions of China, but I also think that Africa’s former colonial powers and the continent’s traditional trading partners in Europe have been very, very good at demonizing the Chinese. Somehow it seems as if some of the African leaders have bought that.”

    WikiLeaks Revelations Could Have Serious Consequences for Africa
    WikiLeaks Revelations Could Have Serious Consequences for Africa

    But, she says some African leaders are being “very hypocritical” in “attacking and criticizing” China “behind Beijing’s back” to America, “because they love to take money from China for infrastructure projects in return for mineral resources, and so on. If I was the Chinese, I’d be pretty upset by what WikiLeaks has revealed in this respect.”

    But some US documents given to WikiLeaks and published by the Guardian also reveal African support for China. In one cable, for example, a US diplomat reports Julius Ole Sunkuli, Kenya’s ambassador to China, as saying “Africa was better off thanks to China’s practical, bilateral approach to development assistance and (Sunkuli) was concerned that this would be changed by ‘western’ interference.”

    Reaction in Africa

    Louw-Vaudran says she’s spoken to many people “from all walks of life” around Africa to get their reaction to the information so far revealed by WikiLeaks.

    “I think many Africans are a little bit disgusted, a little bit shocked, at the sort of flippant way that these American diplomats are talking about, ultimately, African heads of state,” she says.

    Louw-Vaudran comments that while many Africans also find some of the leaks “very humorous indeed,” they’re also now questioning the role of US diplomats, given all the “meddling chitchat” contained within the WikiLeaks revelations.

    Liesl Louw-Vaudran of South Africa's Institute for Security Studies
    Liesl Louw-Vaudran of South Africa's Institute for Security Studies

    “When Africans realize that the Americans are concerned that (Libyan leader Muammar) Gaddafi is sleeping with a ‘voluptuous blonde’ Ukrainian nurse, it makes them think, ‘oh, US diplomats get paid to collect gossip and to make personal insults,’” she says.

    “People say, ‘but what are these ambassadors actually doing here; sitting around here and saying, oh, Muammar Gaddafi is sleeping with this one and that one and that (Italian Prime Minister Silvio) Berlusconi has parties. It almost degrades their job as highly paid ambassadors.”

    Consequences for US and Africa

    Louw-Vaudran says “the whole WikiLeaks debacle” is “something that certainly embarrasses the US.” She adds that the incident is “once again forcing Africans to question the US’s role” on their continent, and to “voice serious doubts about the US.”

    The leaks, Louw-Vaudran says, “beg the question, and Africans are asking this logical question, that if the US cannot protect its secrets, how on earth will they be able to protect people from terrorist attacks, for example?”

    She says the spilling of US government secrets to WikiLeaks is yet another “severe blow to America’s image as the superpower of the world. It further destroys the aura of invincibility that the US once had – especially in Africa – and that we’ve seen eroded since the 9/11 attacks and invasion of Iraq.”

    Louw-Vaudran says many of her contacts across Africa, from high-ranking government officials to prominent businesspeople, are not surprised by the revelations contained within the WikiLeaks cables, but are rather “shocked” that such a powerful country as the US failed to prevent such a “huge leak” from occurring.

    “We will probably see the US government being much more on guard regarding the information it gathers, and where and how it is stored, how it is channeled and who has access to it,” she comments.

    Louw-Vaudran adds that the WikiLeaks revelations are going to make not only Washington, but governments around the world, “very jittery” and “even paranoid.”

    “Governments feel that they can’t control information in this globalized, internet society, and that makes them extremely anxious, and that makes them run around doing things like trying to find ways of blocking websites….”

    But, she says “in this age of computer hackers and so on, and with so many computer savvy people out there, there’s no way that any government can ever be totally sure that they have measures to prevent information from leaking out.”

    Louw-Vaudran warns that the WikiLeaks incident could inspire some states – especially in Africa - to pass laws to crack down “too excessively” on access to information, “which could impact very negatively on people’s right to know most of what their governments are up to.”

    She says, “It’ll give a justification to governments to say, ‘look what happened to the US; all we’re doing is protecting our national interests by preventing what happened to the US from happening to us. It’s very scary.”

    Louw-Vaudran’s convinced the leak will result in “some changes” in the ways in which diplomats in Africa interact with presidents, government members, and so on.

    “From now on, when there is a meeting and an ambassador is invited for dinner for a confidential chat, it will be a bit difficult to have that confidential chat, because there’s no guarantee that anything that is being said won’t be splashed over the newspapers tomorrow.”

    On the other hand, she hopes that this “temporary paranoia” doesn’t prevent ambassadors and governments from sharing confidential information that could save lives.

    “Gossip and insult is one thing, but if this type of information isn’t shared in good time, then we have a big problem.”

    You May Like

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora