Except in South Africa where some protesters opposed his visit, President Obama’s tour of Africa was received with much excitement around the continent. But burning questions about America’s dealings with Africa should be asked
The euphoria that greeted President Barack Obama’s second holiday tour of Africa, especially by African youth, was as high as when the first Black America President, in fact, the son of a Kenyan father and a white American mother, rose to power.
There is a Chinese proverb which says that, ‘When the water subsides the rocks emerge’. Now that the ‘Obama fever’ has evaporated, all that remains is a stark reality that we are faced with: Barack Obama is the President of the United States of America who went to Africa to defend and promote America’s strategic interests, perceived as being threatened by China’s strong presence in the continent. Western media’s headlines, especially American media’s, during Obama’s African tour lent support to that thesis:
1. ‘Obama's goal in Africa: Counter China’, CNN International, 26 June 2013.
2. ‘Tanzania: U.S.-China Rivalry Exemplified in Obama Visit to Tanzania’, Voice of America, 25 June 2013.
3. ‘Why Obama is making an African power-play against China’, 2 July 2013.
4. ‘AFRICA INVESTMENT-Can Obama's Africa Power plan hold a candle to China?’, Reuters, 2 July 2012.
5. ‘Obama's in Africa, but his focus is on China’, NBC News, 1 July 2013.
6. The Real Reason Obama Went to Africa: $100 million is cheap when you’re trying to keep the Chinese away from Africa’s oil’, Philadelphia Magazine, 1 July 2013.
7. As Obama ended his tour of Africa, the BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse, asked: ‘Will Africa decide to do business with the US or opt to beef up trade in China?’.
From the above headlines, we can conclude that Obama’s African tour was about countering China’s influence in Africa. Despite his charm offensive to woo Africa, depicting it as a ‘hopeful continent on the rise and with which America can partner and do business on an equal footing and ‘win-win’ basis’, perhaps taking a leaf from the Chinese ‘win-win’ international relations lexicon, Africans should treat him as such: A US president who went to Africa to build strategic military and business ties with Africa in the face of China’s surge in the continent. In addition, Western countries’ economies in general, and the American economy in particular, still have to recover from the global financial crisis caused by corruption of the Western financial system. And so, Africa is becoming a ‘new frontier’, a new Wild West, a place to make profits, with an eye on land, minerals, energy and so on, to solve Western economies’ problems.
President Obama struck a positive note when he said: ‘Many of the fastest-growing economies in the world are here in Africa, where there is an historic shift taking place from poverty to a growing, nascent middle class. Fewer people are dying of preventable disease. More people have access to health care. More farmers are getting their products to market at fair prices. From micro-finance projects in Kampala, to stock traders in Lagos, to cell phone entrepreneurs in Nairobi, there is an energy here that can't be denied -- Africa rising.’
But for the US President, the other side of the coin is that ‘this progress rests on a fragile foundation though, and is uneven’.
‘Across Africa, the same institutions that should be the backbone of democracy can all too often be infected with the rot of corruption. The same technology that enables record profits sometimes means widening a canyon of inequality. The same interconnection that binds our fates makes all of Africa vulnerable to the undertow of conflict.
‘So there is no question that Africa is on the move, but it's not moving fast enough for the child still languishing in poverty in forgotten townships. It's not moving fast enough for the protester who is beaten in Harare, or the woman who is raped in Eastern Congo. We've got more work to do, because these Africans must not be left behind,’ he said.
Many consider this as a fair assessment of Africa’s real situation. Unfortunately, President Barack Obama’s African lecture tour ended without a real Q&A session. Let us therefore peruse some of the important issue the President raised in Africa:
1. ON EQUAL RIGHTS FOR GAYS AND LESBIANS AND DECRIMINALIZATION OF HOMOSEXUALITY
The argument according to which, because the West has decriminalized homosexuality, therefore Africa should also decriminalize it (otherwise financial aid will be cut off) denotes not only a kind of ‘colonial mentality’ but also a kind of ‘cultural colonialism’, even ‘bullying’ to say the least. Certain Western laws or Western lifestyles are not conducive to Africa’s cultural environment because they destroy social cohesion or the very social fabric of communities. If decriminalizing homosexuality does not harm social cohesion in the West, then that is good for the West. If, along with wars and Africa’s other woes, it destroys social cohesion in Africa, then it is not good for Africa and most of Africa’s position should be respected as such. Those who want to practice homosexuality should go to the West to do so, because there it is legalized. In most Western countries, smoking has been banned in public places. If you are a smoker, you should only frequent those places where smoking is allowed. Africans respect people’s sexual orientation. However, in Africa, it is illegal in most countries to engage in a homosexual relationship because it clearly offends local cultural and customary sensitivities. Those who do so will break the law and if they are punished, that is not persecution. If you go to India and you begin desecrating Indian holy temples and gods, then you are asking for trouble.
The majority of Africans believe that since Africa is the cradle of humanity, the first human beings could not have possibly evolved out of a homosexual relationship and the human race could not have been perpetuated through a homosexual relationship. Therefore, they should not be labeled as ‘homophobic’ or ‘backward’. That is their belief which dictate their way of life. Polygamy is also is also widespread in Africa but the White House has not made it a life and death issue. Clearly, there are very strong homosexual lobbies which now influence American foreign policies.
Moreover, the Bible and the Koran, which Europeans and Arabs brought to Africans, respectively, strictly condemn homosexual behaviour and strictly forbid homosexual relations. In the Bible, particularly, there is passage which is clear on this: ‘Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality will inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 6:9). Since no African was there when the Bible was edited and since we are told that the Bible is the word of God himself, does it mean that God is homophobic? Now that most Western countries have legalized homosexuality, those who might dare to preach this passage in public (like street preachers), might they not end up in prison? If that’s the case, has time not come to edit out this passage from the Bible because it does not sit well with the rest of the Bible, now that most Western countries who brought the Bible to Africans have legalized homosexuality?
Africans are not urging America to abolish the death penalty, sign the Kyoto Protocol or ban guns (there are many Americans who believe that carrying a gun is a human right that should not be violated but the American government begs to differ. Similarly, many African governments beg to differ on the issue of homosexuality). It would be good if Americans did so, but Africans are not interfering in America’s political and legal affairs, and so, America should not do so in Africa, let alone by subterfuge.
2. NELSON MANDELA: A TOWERING LEGACY
We totally agree with President Barack Obama that Madiba will forever be remembered as an anti-apartheid icon, a former South African President, a symbol of national reconciliation and a human rights advocate. In the years since its first democratic election – when Mandela was elected the first black president – South Africa has effectively become a normal country, as Alec Russell, author of ‘After Mandela: The Battle For The Soul Of South Africa’, puts it. Since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of 1996, chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Russell says, the post-apartheid government has stabilised the state, staged fair, multi-party elections and pursued orthodox economic policies (see this link.
However, 20 years after the demise of apartheid, very little has changed for the black majority in South Africa. The scars of apartheid, supported by the Reagan administration, are yet to be healed. Racial inequality still persists and the lives of black people in South Africa still need to be improved. The 5% white South African population still controls 80% of the country’s wealth. Obama could have highlighted this but he did not, perhaps realpolitik obliged.
When former South African President FW de Klerk addressed the Royal Commonwealth Society in London on 12 May 2009, this writer asked him why a ‘two South Africas’ dispensation still applied following the end of apartheid more than a decade before. In his response, De Klerk said that ‘the South African economy will collapse if compulsory wealth redistribution policies were introduced because white minorities will take their capital out of the country. You would then kill the goose that lays golden eggs’. He made no reference to the outcry of the majority poor blacks who constitute the African National Congress (ANC)’s electorate.
3. WHAT IF THOSE FOREIGN INTERESTS ARE AMERICAN?
In his speech at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, President Obama rebuffed the criticism often coming out of Africa according to which democracy and transparency, those values which America holds dearly, are somehow Western exports and that it is intrusive and meddlesome of America to impose them on Africa. His speech drew thunderous applause when he pointed out that ‘those in power in Africa who make those arguments are usually trying to distract people from their own abuses. Sometimes, they are the same people who behind closed doors are willing to sell out their own country’s resource to foreign interests, just so long as they get a cut’. It is hard to argue against that. The question, however, is, what if those foreign interests are American?
It is hard to believe that America does not tell African people who their leaders should be, but stand up with those who support the principles that lead to a better life. The list of African leaders who were assassinated by the CIA because they put the interests of their people first and refused to blindly serve American interests is very long. The list of leaders (living and dead) who were hoisted to power to serve America’s strategic interests and heaped with praises they do not deserve from the White House is also very long. In Congo, Patrice Lumumba was assassinated and Mobutu Sese Seko was hoisted to power. As far as we know, there are no strong institutions, such as independent judiciaries that can enforce the rule of law; honest police forces that can protect the peoples’ interests instead of their own; an open government that can bring transparency and accountability in Rwanda and Uganda today. But there are two strongmen who are supported and protected by Britain and America so long as they serve as proxy forces in Congo. They are presidents Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame!
In fact, today, apart from the Chinese mining contracts in which the Congolese state (DRC) retains at least 32% of stakes, the stakes of the Congolese state in all other mining contracts the government has signed with Western mining companies do not go beyond 20%! So, Western powers still enjoy the lion’s share in Congo. In Zimbabwe, the government retains 51% stakes in each mining contract, not like in the DRC. That is what should be emulated by all other countries throughout Africa. The Chinese respect our laws and rules of the game and are massively investing in Zimbabwe under those rules, but Western countries see a problem with that policy in Zimbabwe where the economy is recovering without Western financial help and despite Western sanctions (so Mugabe is not pocketing all the money). Without African countries drawing their own rules and laying them on the table for their external partners to follow and not the other way round, African independence will remain meaningless and Africa will totally be owned by the outside world, in other words, by people who come and loot Africa’s wealth through predatory wars and then return to Africa as investors!
Take America’s Freeport MacMoran, which wants to exploit the biggest reserve of copper and cobalt in the world situated in Tenke Fungurume, Katanga. It insists that the Congolese state should be content with less than 20% stake, and should not revise it. Companies such as Canada’s Banro hold private gold concessions – wholly owned in eastern Congo’s South Kivu and Maniema provinces, the size of France, as one of its press releases confirmed.
After all, the US desire to devour Africa was best explained by the late Secretary of Commerce, Ron Brown, while visiting Uganda. He told a dinner party audience that: ‘For many years African business has been dominated by Europeans while America gets only 17% of the market. We are now determined to reverse that and take the lion’s share.’ (See here)
At the same time Western NGOs are completely silent about this state of affairs and Western powers have the audacity to accuse Congolese authorities of not being competent and having lousy negotiation skills – only when it comes to negotiations with China, right?
The rise of China is having a positive impact not only in Africa (China is elevating Africa with itself), but also in Asia and Latin America, indeed in Europe and America, I mean, the West itself. With its massive foreign currency reserves, China is intervening to solve problems in the West as well like buying sovereign debts. Most of Africa’s instability-related social, economic, political and technological problems come from the West. But most of the inspirations for solutions to Africa’s problems come from China. For instance, recently Africa has been affected by the devastating global financial crisis which was caused by the corruption of the Western financial system. Without Chinese foreign direct investment to Africa, the situation would have been much worse. Beside, with 20% of arable land only, China is able to feed 3.1 billion people and export food. It is in China that Africa must really turn for inspiration and for learning lessons. So, the rise of China is having a much more positive impact than when the West met Africa, China and other colonized nations. For us it meant slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism and all the mechanisms put in place by Western powers (NGOs, IMF, World Bank, churches and so on) in order to keep Africa always last in the queue.
In fact, according to Graham Peebles, Director of UK-based Create Trust, which runs education and social development programmes and supports fundamental social change and the human rights of individuals in acute need, there is a new special scheme specifically designed for Africa, called the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa (NAFSNA), designed by the governments of the G8, the eight richest economies, which was born out of the G8 summit in May 2012 at Camp David. It has been written in honourable terms to sit comfortably within the Africa Union’s Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP), bestowing an aura of international credibility to it. Nine African countries (from a continent of 54 nation states), have committed to the alliance: Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Malawi and Nigeria. NAFSNA aims to help African governments ‘to refine their policies in order to improve investment opportunities’. In plain English, African countries are required to change their trade and agriculture laws to include ending the free distribution of seeds, relax the tax system and national export controls and open the doors for profit repatriation.
Graham Peebles concludes that ending hunger in sub-Saharan Africa, India and elsewhere will not be brought about by allowing large tracts of land to be bought up by corporations whose only interest is in maximizing return on investment. Far from providing investment and support for the people of Africa, NAFSNA is a mask for exploitation and profiteering: True investment in Africa is investment in the people of Africa; the smallholder farmers, the women and children, the communities across the continent. It involves working collectively, consulting, encouraging participation and crucially sharing. Sharing of knowledge, experience and technology, sharing the natural resources – the land, food and water, the minerals and other resources equitably amongst the people of Africa and indeed the wider world. Such radical, commonsense ideas would go a long way to creating not only food security but harmony, trust and social justice which just might bring about peace (see here).
4. THE NEW $7 BILLION ‘POWER AFRICA’ INITIATIVE
Although this initiative is laudable, it targets only a few selected countries deemed to be ‘friends of America’. We believe that efforts should rather be concentrated on stopping Africa’s financial hemorrhage, so that Africa can rely on itself, empower itself, instead of being empowered by other people or relying on hand outs. In fact, the Premium Times of Abuja on 20 May 2013 quoted former South African President Thabo Mbeki and current Chairman of the United Nations High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa, as saying in Abuja that, ‘the African continent loses, at least, $50 billion annually through illicit fund flows’.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, for his part, stressed the need for Africa to check the huge funds being illegally taken out of the continent. ‘The huge funds being illicitly taken out of Africa can solve our infrastructure and other problems, so we must look within and check this hemorrhage,’ he said. President Jonathan further said that ‘Africa needs robust assistance from the developed world” to check the outflow’, adding that ‘corruption would be minimised if there were no places to hide the illicit funds’. America is one of such places.
5. AMERICA WILL MAKE NO APOLOGY FOR SUPPORTING AFRICAN EFFORTS TO END CONFLICT
That is understandable! If America has good intentions in Africa, why shout it would not make an apology for helping and supporting its African partners? A friend in need is a friend indeed. We only hope that this does not mean that because Africans find themselves in such a desperate situation, they cannot exercise their rights to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to America’s proposed values (including decriminalizing homosexuality or else financial aid will be cut off), as if a beggar has no choice! That would not be support! That would be coercion!
When it comes to conflict resolution, America often gives the impression of igniting the fire where its interests are at stake and then at the same time claiming to be extinguishing it! In Tanzania, President Obama called on states around the Democratic Republic of Congo's eastern region to stop fuelling conflict there and implement a peace deal, according to a Reuters report on 1 July 2013. But President Obama did not call the spade a spade. Congo has nine neighbours. He did not name those countries which obviously are Rwanda and Uganda. But he named Zimbabwe and the DRC when he talked about ‘the protester who is beaten in Harare, or the woman who is raped in Eastern Congo’.
President Obama said: ‘The countries surrounding the Congo, they've got to make a commitment to stop funding armed groups that are encroaching on territorial integrity and sovereignty of Congo. They’ve signed on a piece of paper, now the question is whether they follow through. Countries surrounding Congo should recognize that if the Congo stabilizes, that will improve the prospects for their goals and their prosperity.’
We hope that this is a significant shift in Washington’s policy toward the DRC, because only recently, President Obama’s outgoing Assistant Secretary of State in charge of African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, speaking at Brookings Institution, on 11 February 2013, reiterated that ‘the treatments to be applied to the resolution of the Congo crisis, must be those already experimented in the former Yugoslavia and the former Sudan’. As we know, those two countries have finally broken up in two or more states, and so one can guess how disastrous this policy can be for Congo.
President Obama called upon Congolese President Joseph Kabila ‘to do more and better inside Congo when it comes to dealing with the DRC's capacity on security issues and delivery of services’, adding that ‘America was prepared to work with the UN help Kabila build capacity’. Nevertheless, the Congolese soldiers who were recently accused of rape in eastern Congo belong to a battalion trained by the Americans! What do we do?!
What is important for America in Africa? Sustainable development or the militarization of its African policy, including by its new strategy of ‘American money and African boots’? America is establishing military bases everywhere throughout Africa (Djibouti, Niger, Libya…) under the AFRICOM program, when other parts of the world are getting rid of or calling for American military bases to be closed in their territories because they must be infringing on something. What could that something be?
If American can spy on its own NATO allies of the European Union and beyond, how much more Africa? America’s ally, Japan, has many times called for the closure of American military base in Okinawa. The President of Kyrgyzstan, Almazbek Atambayev, recently signed a bill ordering the closure of a US airbase, according to a CCTV report on 28 June 2013. Based on the bill, US forces must abandon the base at the Manas International Airport by July 2014. The airbase serves as the main transit hub for NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The way forward for Africa is to be united and to go the Chinese way as well as the South American way. The Chinese way because we have to rely on ourselves instead of continuing to be dependent on our former colonizers, protect our sovereignty and demand a new relationship with them based on our own terms, on mutual respect and win-win cooperation. We have to make France and other Western countries realize that they should stop ‘cutting the same tree branch on which they are sitting’ (African proverb).
South American countries are succeeding exactly because they have reached their own consensus instead of trusting the Commonwealth, Francophonie, Lusophonie, Washington Consensus and so on. As Noam Chomsky puts it, in the past decade, for the first time in 500 years, South America has taken successful steps to free itself from Western domination, another serious loss for America. The region has moved towards integration, and has begun to address some of the terrible internal problems of societies ruled by mostly Europeanized elites, tiny islands of extreme wealth in a sea of misery. They have also rid themselves of all US military bases and of IMF controls. A newly formed organization, CELAC, includes all countries of the hemisphere apart from the US and Canada. If it actually functions, that would be another step in American decline, in this case in what has always been regarded as ‘the backyard’ (Noam Chomsky, 2012. The Imperial Way: American Decline in Perspective. TomDispatch.com.)
* Antoine Roger Lokongo is a journalist and Beijing University PhD candidate from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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