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Africa, China and the West: An

Exchange with Thomas Mountain

Thomas Mountain interviewed by Ron Jacobs

( August 22, 2015, Boston, Sri Lanka Guardian) Ron


Jacobs: Hi Tom, first can you provide a little background on yourself to help the
readers understand your perspective on the matters we are discussing?
Thomas Mountain: I was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. I married an ex-fighter
from the Eritrean independence war in 1999 that I met in London and in 2006 we

permanently relocated to Eritrea. I describe myself as an activist and educator and for
what its worth, the most widely distributed independent journalist in Africa. I have been
contributing toCounterpunch, amongst other publications, since 2003.
My political activism goes back to helping organize a walkout from Punahou School
(Obamas alma mater) to protest the US invasion of Cambodia in 1970. In subsequent
years I was involved in the environmental movement, community organizing against
evictions, and labor support. I attended technical school where I received a certificate
as a heavy equipment mechanic, a field in which I was to work in, as well as teach
until 1993 when I was permanently disabled.
In 1975 I started working with the Revolutionary Communist Party USA (RCP USA)
and was sent by the Party to work at Waialua Sugar Company on Oahus North Shore.
In 1977 I was elected by the rank and file as a member of the ILWU full negotiating
committee for what became the last state wide sugar workers strike in Hawaii. I was
also elected as the co-strike committee chair for our local unit during the month long
strike. I was eventually fired from Waialua Sugar for my political activism. In 1982 I
stopped all work with the Party and in 1983 began my work with the Pan Africanist
movement in the USA as a part of educational work on Black and African matters
which included my support for the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front beginning in
1983.
In 1982 I also started my support for the Palestinian people/anti-Zionist movement
during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Eventually this lead to my becoming the local
coordinator for what was then known as the Eyewitness Israel program with the
Palestine Human Rights Campaign.
As I part of my work as Co-Chair of the Hawaii Black History Committee starting in
1983 I organized a series of programs that included Kwame Tures (Stokely
Carmichael) return to Hawaii, appearances by representatives of the South African
Pan Africanist Congress and the
Azanian Peoples Organization as well as Jamaican Reggae poet Mutabaruka. In 1987
I was invited to be a member of the 1st US Peace Delegation to Libya and in 1988
represented the USA at the Anti-Racist Anti-Apartheid Conference in Tokyo Japan.
From 1983 until 1997 I organized a series of cultural events focusing on Black and
African culture including a Tribute to Bob Marley featuring the original band the
Rastafarians, Peter Tosh, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Ramsey Lewis, Taj Mahal, Tito
Puente, Junior Wells, Aswad, Steel Pulse and others.
In 1993 I founded the Hawaii Artists in the Schools, Inc. and, as well as producing
statewide cultural and educational programs created and co-taught a graduate level
course for public school teachers for the University of Hawaii titled The African
Influence on World Civilization as a part of my work with the late Asa G. Hilliard and
Ivan Van Sertimas Journal of African Civilization contributing writers. In 1989 I began
working with the late Larry Leon Hamlin, founder of the National Black Theater Festival
which included two dramatic residencies in Hawaiis Schools. I was extended an
ongoing Residency invitation by Larry to the Festival which I was able to accept for the

1995, 1997 and 2001 Festivals in Winston-Salem North Carolina. In 1996, as a part of
my anti-racist work, I helped found the Ambedkar Journal on Indias Dalits or black
untouchables and went on to co-edit and publish the journal which was the first such
publication on the internet (also see Why Indias Dalits Hate Gandhi).
As a part of my work with the Ambedkar journal and its mission to educate the world
on the caste/varna/color basis of Indian society I co-founded the Phoolan Devi
International Defense Committee which continued until Sister Phoolans death (see the
film Bandit Queen). In 1997 I had to take family leave from my job as an educator to
take care of my elderly parents and subsequently founded the Honolulu Medical
Marijuana Patients Co-op, the first public medical marijuana dispensary in Hawaii. I
continued my work with the Co-op building our membership to over 300 members with
referrals from many of the leading neurologists, oncologists, infectious disease
specialists and osteopaths in Honolulu.
RJ: You mention you live in Eritrea. I recall going to a couple meetings back in the
1970s during the Eritrean liberation struggle against Ethiopia. For the sake of a
memory that is a bit hazy, do you mind summarizing that moment in time and the
subsequent history of the Eritreans and Ethiopia?
TM: In 1983 I was first introduced to a representative of the Eritrean Peoples
Liberation Front (EPLF) by Kwame Ture when I traveled to Los Angeles for my first
meeting with Kwame. At the time the EPLF was an almost unknown guerilla army
fighting an independence war against the Ethiopian colonialization of their country that
no one it seemed, other than the Eritrean people, thought possible to win. Kwame
himself was a longtime supporter of the EPLF and had a policy of requesting, if
possible, a representative of the EPLF to give the opening remarks at any of his
speaking engagements.
I was already familiar with the EPLF and the armed struggle of the Eritrean people for
national liberation due to my work with the RCP USA whose Revolution Books store
carried the EPLFs literature (alongside the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front, more on
this later). The EPLF seemed to have the impossible task of winning Eritrean
independence from a particularly brutal Ethiopian regime supported by the Soviet
Union to the tune of many billions of dollars in military aid. Eritrea only had 3 million
people while Ethiopia had some 70 million or more population and the largest best
equipped army in Africa (something still true today). To make matters worse, Ethiopia
and its leader Haile Selassie were revered in the Pan Africanist movement as a
symbol of African resistance to western colonialism and the forerunner of todays
African Union (AU), the Organization for African Unity (OAU), had its headquarters in
Ethiopias capital Addis Ababa.
The irony and hypocrisy, really, of the OAU, supposedly founded to combat colonialism
in Africa, having its headquarters in Ethiopia, which had occupied and forcibly annexed
and colonized the former Italian colony of Eritrea, seemed to have been completely
lost on other Africans and the anti-colonial movement in general. It was the USAs
Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, who so infamously wrote in his memoirs that

Eritrea was supposed to have had the same right to independence as any other
African colony but that it was in the USAs national interest to give Eritrea to Ethiopia,
whose leader at the time was the firm US ally known for his anti-communism, Haile
Selassie.
So Eritrean independence was still born and after a decade of frustrated attempts to
peacefully obtain independence, the Eritrean armed struggle for national liberation
was founded in 1961. Thirty years later, after some of the most desperate battles seen
in the 20th century, including some of the greatest military victories, the EPLF, without
any support from anyone other than the Eritrean people at home and abroad (except
maybe Siad Barre, then President of Somalia), crushed the Ethiopian occupation army
of over 250,000 in 1991 and not only liberated Eritrea but marched on the Ethiopian
capital Addis Ababa and drove the genocidal butcher Haile Mariam Mengistu into exile
in Zimbabwe.
So, in 1991 Eritrea had won its independence on the field of battle (the only country in
post- colonial Africa to have done so, more on this later), Ethiopia had seen the end of
the brutal Mengistu regime and all was peace and prosperity right? Well this was not
to be because Pax Americana was not about to allow a independent, socialist
government that came to power via the armed struggle versus the western controlled
democratic process of elections that had taken place in all the rest of Africa to
succeed. Within 7 years after independence Eritrea was faced with another round of
Ethiopian aggression, this time from their former comrades in arms
against the Mengistu regime, the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) who had
come to power in the vacuum left by the defeat of the Mengistu regime and
subsequent withdrawal of the EPLF from Addis Ababa in 1991.
I have written several articles on how the USA co-opted the TPLFs leadership, mainly
with billions of dollars in aid and sanctioned a series of bloody murders of more
independent minded TPLF leaders. The result was that a particularly murderous thug
named Meles
Zenawi was anointed by the USA to head the new Ethiopian government, and having
the only effective military force in the country, set about wiping out any resistance to
his rule. Item number one on the USAs agenda, and this was during Anthony Tony
Lakes time as Bill Clintons consigliere/National Security Advisor, was getting rid of
the pesky independence role model, Eritrea.
The result? Starting in 1998 Ethiopia launched a series of attempted invasions of
Eritrea over the completely artificial pretext of a border dispute which eventually saw
the defeat of the Ethiopian invasion of Eritrea in May-June of 2000 and the deaths of
123,000 Ethiopians and 19,000 Eritreans (see the article The War No One
Remembers). Today, 15 years later, despite a final and binding border demarcation
the Ethiopian army continues to occupy Eritrean territory and regularly carries out
major military incursions into Eritrea, all part of the US backed policy of No War, No
Peace to force Eritrea to maintain a large military based on national service in an
ongoing effort to destabilize the Eritrean government and damage the Eritrean

economy.
Unfortunately for the US plans to maintain hegemony in the Horn of Africa, a
strategically critical transport lane via the Red Sea/Suez Canal through which flows
the commerce of the two largest trading partners in the world, Asia and Europe,
growing insurgencies inside Ethiopia are sowing the seeds for regime change. In the
south east of Ethiopia, the Somali peoples of the Ogaden are continuing their armed
struggle for independence. In the west the Anuak peoples of the Gambella are still
fighting the land theft being forced upon them so their land can be exploited by foreign
investors. And in the north, in the province of Tigray, the ethnic homeland of the ruling
regime, a large rebel army based on the Eritrean border is steadily expanding its area
of operations and beginning to seriously threaten the present ethnic minority
government in power in Addis Ababa.
Only an unprecedented wave of foreign investment has kept the Ethiopian regime
afloat. Estimates are that Ethiopia runs a trade deficit of over $10 billion a year. The
only major exports Ethiopia has to support a country of 90 plus million are coffee and
cut flowers. This brings in at best $2.5 billion a year. Only regular massive aid
injections and the largest loan forgiveness program in Africa are keeping the regime
afloat. It is a matter of when, not if, that will see a regime change in the country, for the
present US backed mafia that runs the country grows
more hated and isolated by the day. This past election didnt even see a pretense of
democracy, with the ruling party declaring themselves the winner of 100% of the
seats in parliament. Of course, Susan Rice, President Obamas National Security
Advisor, told the assembled media at a press conference during Obamas trip to Africa
that Ethiopia was 100% democratic with a straight face.
The main purpose of Obamas recent visit to Ethiopia was an attempt to shore up an
increasingly unpopular regimes credibility, for little in the way of investment by the
USA was announced. Internationally, US foreign policy is based on using local police
to do its dirty work. In South America, that force is Columbia, in West Africa it is
Nigeria, in the Middle East it is Israel and in east Africa, and it is mainly Ethiopia. On
the behest of the USA Ethiopia attempted to invade and destroy Eritrea in 1998-2000,
invaded Somalia and destroyed the first government Mogadishu had seen in 15 years
in 2006 and is presently actively supporting the rebels putatively lead by Reik
Machar in South Sudan. Without Ethiopia and its largest best equipped army in Africa,
the USA will be in a very difficult position.
At the end of 2005, shortly after the death of my last surviving parent, I was forced to
shut down the Patients Co-op following public threats made against me by the then
US Attorney in Hawaii. Following this we sold our home and moved to Eritrea where
we have been living ever since. Eritrea is a very peaceful country with almost no crime
or even homelessness or what is all too common in Africa, beggars. The streets are
clean, the people friendly and for all the malicious lies and slanders calling Eritrea a
police state the only police on the streets, and very few at that, do not carry any

weapons, not even batons. Satellite television via dishes is everywhere without any
jamming of any stations what so ever. The internet is completely uncensored, though
quite slow due to the lack of a fiber optic connection and the reliance on a limited band
width satellite link.
The government subsidizes basic food supplies as well as electricity. While few
changes can be seen in the main towns and cities, life for the majority of the people
who live in the villages has changed dramatically for the better in the 24 years since
independence. Wells providing easy access to clean drinking water, roads and bus
services, schools and medical clinics; all are now available to most rural Eritreans with
services to even the most remote villages a priority for the government. Most of these
services in the villages are powered by solar electric systems and Eritrea is said to be
the per capita second most solar friendly country in the world.
Eritreas health system has been lauded as one of the most successful in Africa and
has reduced malaria mortality by up to 80%. It is the only country in Africa to have
seen a major reduction in HIV/AIDS, by up to 40%. Health care is accessible, almost
free, and is free to those eligible, and steadily improving. Almost every village in the
malaria belt is within two hours walk from a medical clinic where comprehensive
treatment is available. Eritrea today is facing two major challenges: the first is the USlead economic sabotage and aid embargoes. The second is climate change, climate
disaster really (see Surviving Climate Disaster in Africas Sahel).
Including this years drought, Eritrea has been ravaged by drought in 6 of the last 12
years, including historically unprecedented back to back droughts in 2003-4 and 20089. In spite of this, due to the massive allocation of scarce resources, Eritrea has been
able to prevent any serious food shortages. Another factor is the ongoing construction
of major water reservoirs used for irrigation as a part of a national priority campaign of
water and soil conservation as well as reforestation. I have written an article titled
Eritrea; The Cuba of Africa on how Eritrea, like Cuba, is struggling against the allpowerful US empire and while the road ahead for us remains difficult the attempts by
the US to deter our leaderships efforts to build A rich Eritrea without rich Eritreans
are not succeeding.
RJ: You originally contacted me in response to a review I wrote about Nick Turses
book Tomorrows Battlefield, which concerns the growing footprint of the US military on
the African continent. Can you please address that and how it looks from your
perspective as a resident?
TM: The USA, and its western minions, have targeted Africa with a policy best
described as Crisis Management, as in create a crisis and then manage the
subsequent disaster to better loot and plunder African resources. If the USA cant
manage to directly pillage the newly crisis ridden region at least, as in the case of
South Sudan, it can deny access to valuable resource to its competitors. In the case of
South Sudan, to have the Chinese prevented from pumping oil, or at least from
expanding Chinese oil development there. The Chinese on the other hand, are
dominating the development of African resources in a policy aimed at partnership with

African
governments, no matter how odious. For example, in Ethiopia, China has invested $3
billion in building a new railway linking the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, with
Ethiopias only access to the sea, Djibouti, a major improvement over the dangerous
road corridor now being used. China is also investing $400 million in upgrading
Djiboutis notoriously overcrowded port through which Ethiopia imports 90% of what it
needs to survive.
This is typical of Chinese policy in Africa, and the rest of the world, and is in contrast to
the rape and pillage policy of western countries. Of course, it is very profitable for
China and without the
massive infrastructure projects China is developing (i.e. ports, roads, railways etc.), it
wouldnt be possible for China to access the raw materials they need from Africa.
China also provides relatively generous aid programs, at least in comparison to the
puny benefits Africa receives from the west which are mainly for the purposes of
making African countries more dependent
on the western economies. Chinese aid has built more schools, hospitals, water and
electric
infrastructure than all the western governments and the UN combined, and is set to do
much more if the present programs that have been announced are implemented.
China recognizes that Africa needs educated and skilled personnel to help develop
African resources and it is in Chinas interest to help make this happen. Again, doing
this is a long term investment that
will pay off for China, both in good will and in their companies bottom lines.
The US military via its African Central Command has been slowly expanding its efforts
in Africa. With Djibouti being the only permanent military presence on the African
continent, and even this becoming increasingly problematic (see US vs. China in
Djibouti) the main military operations in Africa are via the drone assassination
program. Some training is going on, and a number of armament programs are
expanding but to this day the French military in Africa is substantially greater than the
USAs. Of course, the US has Ethiopia and its large army to rely on, though even this
has been badly damaged following the Ethiopian defeat by Eritrea in 2000 with the
loss of the cream of the Ethiopian army, and the subsequent Ethiopian invasion,
eventual defeat and withdrawal from Somalia resulting in a loss of over 20,000
Ethiopian troops from 2006-2008.
The US is mainly involved in supporting proxy wars such as its support via Ethiopia for
the rebellion in South Sudan (see Obamas War in South Sudan) and the nasty
counterinsurgency being waged by various African countries at the USAs behalf in
Somalia. The USA has been involved in many crimes in Africa during the past few
decades but none have been worse than what would best be described as the War on
the Somali People. This includes not only Somalia itself but the Somali people of the
Ogaden in southeast Ethiopia. Since 2007, during a series of droughtincluding the

Great Horn of Africa drought from 2010-2012, the worst in 60 yearsthe Ethiopian
government, with the support of the US and the UN, has imposed a food and medical
aid blockade for all of the Ogaden and large areas of Oromia in south western
Ethiopia. Even MSF (Doctors without Borders) and the Red Cross have been expelled
from the Ogaden, something no other country in the world has been allowed to do
(see Full Blown Genocide in Ethiopia and Feeding Death Squads in Ethiopia).
RJ: You wrote a brief piece on Counterpunch (May 7, 2013) about the famine in
Somalia. Do you consider these types of events to be manmade or not?
TM: In Somalia proper, the over one million refugees, most who are the result of the
war started by the US backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia and the ongoing
occupation of Somalia by foreign UN backed troops, were the victims of a deliberate
policy of starvation by the UN, in particular UNICEF, headed by former US National
Security Advisor and failed nominee to head the CIA Anthony Tony Lake. According
to the UN, at least 250,000 Somalis, many in the care of the UN, starved to death
during the great drought and famine of 2010-12. This massive starvation, which could
be considered genocide, was predicted by this writer when Tony Lake announced in
2010 that he had budgeted less than 10 cents a day to feed over 1 million Somali
refugees (see UN and the Starvation of 250,000 Somalis). Other articles have shown
how the policy of the US and its lackeys at the UN (the head of the World Food
Program was appointed by George Bush) has been to deliberately sabotage Somali
food self-sufficiency, (see Angel of Mercy or Angel of Death; the WFP in Somalia).
RJ: It is my impression that Washington has minimal interest in engaging the people of
any country it goes into in a manner that benefits the people of that country. Instead, it
seems to perceive the world in terms of its own economic and strategic requirements.
Do you believe this to be accurate when it comes to US involvement in the nations of
Africa? How so? Alternatively, one reads that China, in its pursuit of resources and
markets, invests in other nations in a different mannerinvesting in education, health
care, infrastructure, etc Do you find this to be true? What are your thoughts on this
and the different approaches by Washington and Beijing?
TM: The USA and its western minions have targeted Africa with a policy best
described as Crisis Management. In other words, create a crisis and then manage the
subsequent disaster to better loot and plunder African resources. If the USA cant
manage to directly pillage the newly crisis ridden region at least, as in the case of
South Sudan, it can deny access to valuable resource to its competitors. For example,
in the case of South Sudan, to have the Chinese prevented from pumping oil, or at
least from expanding Chinese oil development there. The Chinese on the other hand,
are dominating the development of African resources in a policy aimed at partnership
with African governments, no matter how odious.
For example, in Ethiopia, China has invested $3 billion in building a new railway linking
the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, with Ethiopias only access to the sea, Djibouti, a
major improvement over the dangerous road corridor now being used. China is also
investing $400 million in upgrading Djiboutis notoriously overcrowded port through

which Ethiopia imports 90% of what it needs to survive. This is typical of Chinese
policy in Africa and the rest of the world, and is in contrast to the rape and pillage
policy of western countries. Of course, it is very profitable for China and without the
massive infrastructure projects China is developing i.e. ports, roads, railways etc., it
wouldnt be possible for China to access the raw materials they need from Africa.
China also provides relatively generous aid programs, at least in comparison to the
puny benefits Africa receives from the west which are mainly for the purposes of
making African countries more dependent on the western economies. Chinese aid has
built more schools, hospitals, water and electric infrastructure than all the western
governments and the UN combined, and is set to do much more if the present
programs that have been announced are implemented. China recognizes that Africa
needs educated and skilled personnel to help develop African resources and it is in
Chinas interest to help make this happen. Again, doing this is a long term investment
that will pay off for China, both in good will and in their companies bottom lines.
RJ: Looking at the various groups/movements the US military has targeted on the
African continentBoko Harum, various Al Queda offshoots, etc.how do you explain
their existence and ability to wreak the havoc they seem to do? And tangentially, what
do you see as potential futures for the people and nations of Africa, economically and
politically?
TM: The phenomenon of terrorism in Africa is fairly recent and is found in countries
that for all intents and purposes are failed states. When a government does not
provide the essential human rights to its peoplefood, water, shelter, medical care
and education for its childrenthat government is failing in its most basic purpose and
should be considered a failed state. In most areas of Nigeria for example, most
Nigerians struggle every day just to survive and water- borne disease, malnutrition,
malaria and other communicable disease are rife. Education is just a dream for many
if not most Nigerians and the existing conditions are ripe for the growth of the most
fanatical forms of religious extremism. Somalia and the development of what is
described as a terrorist group, Al Shabab is an example of how terrorism is created
as a direct result of the US policy of Failed States (see Obamas Failed States Policy
in Africa).
Prior to the US instigated Ethiopian invasion of Somalia at the end of 2006 there was
no terrorist organization called Al Shabab. The Union of Islamic Courts, a moderate,
nationalist, Islamic confederation of Somali religious and clan based leadership had
driven out the warlords that ruled Mogadishu for 15 years since the collapse of the
previous government lead by Siad Barre and brought peace to Mogadishu. The very
existence of an independent, nationalist Islamic government reuniting Somalia, which
lies at the mouth of the Baab Al Mandeb, the entrance from the Indian Ocean to the
Red Sea and its strategically critical trade between Asia and Europe, was intolerable
to the USA and it sent the Ethiopian army to put an end to this very positive
development; positive for the Somali people and the region, that is.
The Ethiopian army and its armor and heavy artillery quickly drove the UIC from power

and into foreign exile and ignited a conflagration of Somali nationalism that the youth
wing of the UIC, Al Shabab, quickly took advantage of. In time a more fanatical wing of
the youth movement ruthlessly wiped out its rivals and what is today known as the Al
Queda linked Al Shabab was born. To put it simply, if the US hadnt sent in its
policeman on the beat, Ethiopia, to destroy the UIC and the peace they had brought
to Somalia there would be no terrorist movement in Somalia. The Failed States
policy being employed in Africa, whether a deliberate destruction of a country like
Libya by the western military, or a more indirect policy of ignoring their puppet leaders
mistakes until disaster strikes like in the Central African Republic; an instance which
was quickly followed by a French program of ethnic cleansing of the ethnically Muslim
population in an attempt to maintain French control, it all boils down to the same thing,
a failed state policy.
As a result, the future of Africa is not very bright under the present, western/UN
dominated system. A small, independent country like Eritrea should be a role model for
Africa, and is seen very clearly by the USA and the rest of the western countries as a
threat of a good example. For example, Eritrea receives 40% of the profits from its
first gold mine in comparison to Tanzania, where Anglo-American operates one of the
largest gold mines in the world and only pays the Tanzanian government a 4% royalty.
If the rest of Africa starts to follow Eritrea example and demands a real partnership
from foreign investors and uses the money for the benefit of its own people instead of
paying off extortionate loans from the western dominated World Bank and IMF, then
the bloated, wasteful standard of living being experience by the western population will
not be sustainable and will result in serious social instability and eventually, possible
collapse of the financial elite dominated governments. This may explain why Eritrea,
whether you and I may understand it, must not be allowed to prosper, just as Cuba for
so many decades has been made to suffer.
(The italicized references in parentheses refer to articles written by Mr. Mountain. One
can read them by doing a browser search with the title providedRon.)
Thomas Mountain is a journalist, educator and activist. He lives in Eritrea.
Posted by Thavam