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Open letter to Stratfor

Posted in conflict, conflict analysis, Congo, DRC, natural resource exploitation with tags , , , , , , , , , on 5 February, 2009 by Virgil

The following is a letter I have just sent to Stratfor, a US-based intelligence corporation that provides analysis on world affairs. Stratfor calls itself “the world leader in global intelligence”. As a paying (although often dissatisfied) customer, I have felt it important to point out what I feel are the problems in Stratfor’s services. My problem is not so much with the quality of the analysis, but more with their choice of issues for analysis. The most obvious problem is obsessive analysis of some popular issues and the marginalization of others that should carry considerable geopolitical value. It is quite disturbing to see that this corporation seems to produce more analysis on Israel-Palestine than it does on the entire African continent, for example. This raises serious doubts about how ‘global’ it is. My previous two letters on similar subjects have gone unanswered, but I thought I’d give it another go. Here is the letter:

To the Africa Experts at Stratfor,

I would like to firstly welcome you all back from your long vacations. I am assuming that you are all on long vacations because of the level of work that is been produced by Stratfor about the African continent.

Unfortunately, the people filling in for you haven’t done a very good job of keeping on top of things. In January, they have managed to come up with a total of just six area-specific analysis articles covering all of Africa. Your colleagues in the Middle East department are blazing ahead – they have come up with 26 analysis articles in January on the Israel-Palestine conflict alone! That’s four times the number of analysis articles on the entire African continent.

To make matters worse, they have completely ignored the dramatic developments in the Great Lakes region of Africa, the hands-down deadliest region of the world, and the source of vast amounts of mineral wealth. The last time Stratfor took the trouble to do an analysis of the DRC was 24 November 2008. Since that time, Uganda and South Sudan have entered the DRC in a joint operation with the Congolese troops against the LRA. A secret deal between the heads of state of the DRC and Rwanda has seen a dramatic turnaround between these former enemies. The CNDP rebels have split, and their leader has been arrested in Rwanda. Their major joint military operation against FDLR rebels is underway, and they are shutting out the UN peacekeepers and humanitarian organizations in the process. This represents a dramatic change in the state of this conflict, and of the geopolitical dynamics of the region. We are seeing alliances that would have been until recently unthinkable. What is really going on there? We continue to await your wise analysis.

One of the few analysis articles written on Africa is on the better-known (more popular) situation in Zimbabwe. To write on Zimbabwe while ignoring the Great Lakes region (especially at a time when there are so many major developments taking place), suggests a serious lack of understanding of the geopolitical significance of the continent. Zimbabwe’s greatest geopolitical asset (what makes it important to the outside world) is really its nuisance value. It has a leader that likes to speak out in English against the West – someone who won’t play ball. He is a leader that people seem to love to hate. But he has little grip over valuable natural resources, or economic and political clout. There is far more at stake in the Great Lakes region. Zimbabwe is a popular choice, but not a very shrewd geopolitical one.

You really do need to get back to your posts, and get up to speed on these and other important issues, and give your customers some serious analysis on what is going on. I realize that everyone needs a break from the daily grind, but I really wonder how long your employer can turn a blind eye to such neglect of this part of the world, particularly given its rising importance to the rest of the world. Just look at your friends in the Middle East department, who seem to be so industrious and motivated. I hope your jobs are not at stake. Your employer certainly is very understanding.

If things keep up like this, though, it will be hard to shake the appearance that Stratfor is really following the ‘fashionable’ crises, rather like the regular mainstream media does. Such an extremely disproportionate view of the geopolitical scene is hardly befitting a supposedly detached and objective intelligence organization. Israel-Palestine certainly has political significance, but to suggest that this very small part of the world is a few times more important than the entire African continent is really stretching things, and cannot be taken seriously.

There are those who would think (even if they don’t admit it) that Africa is just a poor continent full of black people who really don’t matter much in the scheme of things. We know of their resource riches, but as long as their problems don’t adversely affect those of us in the whiter and richer world drilling or mining for them, or buying them at literally give-away prices, then it doesn’t really matter what else goes on there (their problems often conveniently help us to get hold of those resources).

You and I know better, though. Humanitarian notions aside, the USA imports more oil from Africa than it does from the Persian Gulf, and that’s before we even start talking about diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, cassiterite, coltan and all the other treasures there that the rest of the world relies on. I apologize for taking up your valuable time on reading this letter, time that could be spent getting up to speed. I do wish you all the best and look forward to the reinvigoration of the Africa department at Stratfor.


Virgil Hawkins

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