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The Imperial Tour: Militarism and Plunder

Obama in Africa

by HORACE CAMPBELL

In recent years, the United States has increasingly been sidelined in areas of deep economic transformation in Africa because US engagement with Africa has been primarily through militarism and military relations. The visit of US President Barack Obama to Africa should be viewed against this background.

On June 26, 2013 through July 3, 2013, for the third time in his presidency,   Obama will be visiting Africa;  specifically Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.   According to the White House Press Release, “The President will reinforce the importance that the United States places on our deep and growing ties with countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including through expanding economic growth, investment, and trade; strengthening democratic institutions; and investing in the next generation of African leaders.”  [1] However, apart from this vague press release there is no clarity on why this trip is taking place at this particular moment.[2]

President Obama’s visit comes at a moment when the world is gripped with the spectacle of a young American, Edward Snowden, fleeing the United States because he was promoting information freedom, against the militaristic and police state in America. With all the problems facing him at home – sequestration, unemployment, drums for escalating wars in Syria and divisions over immigration laws –  Obama’s trip to Africa lacks substance and definition.  What can he offer the continent? What does he bring to the table to justify his visit?

Both former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush visited Africa during their second terms in office. When Clinton and Bush made their journeys to Africa, the US foreign policy establishment had been guided by a three-pronged mantra. These were: (a) the notion that Africa was facing a “threat” from international terrorists, (b) that the United States had strategic interests in Africa (especially with the flow of petroleum resources), and (c) the emerging competition with China. The crisis of capitalism since 2008 and the hype about petroleum and gas self-sufficiency as a result of shale oil and new gas finds in the United States have added another layer to all.  More importantly, the US plans for confronting China in Africa have been tempered by the reality that the US policy makers have to beseech China to continue to purchase US Treasury Bills.[3]

In previous commentaries I have critiqued the imperial merits of Clinton’s and Bush’s reasons for visiting the continent. They were at least arguably more substantive and better articulated than Obama’s.  The lack of specificity of Obama’s upcoming visit supports the argument advanced by some that as the first Black president of the United States, he has to visit Africa. After all, he has visited Europe numerous times. This argument renders his visit nothing more than an item to be checked off his overarching presidential agenda.  But in the context of the the sidelining of US economic interests in Africa by other key players like China, Obama’s visit could be seen as one effort to boost support for US capitalists on the continent. Giving credence to this argument is the fact that Obama is visiting two of the countries also visited by the President of China, Xi Jinping, a few weeks ago – Tanzania and South Africa.

Past presidential visits had the paternalistic agenda of lecturing Africans on governmental transparency, democracy, human rights, fight against corruption, freedom of speech, etcetera.  Yet, given the current climate of scandals orchestrated by the media in the U.S, Obama would appear hypocritical in making these panned statements about supporting democracy in Africa. While that has not stopped past presidents, this time the cat’s out of the bag.  The multiple scandals surrounding the banks and the extent of the corruption of Wall Street exposed by Matt Taibbi and others have dwarfed any discussion of corruption in Africa. America’s inability to rein in the mafia-style activities of the bankers is open and in full view of the world audience. In this commentary I want to place President Obama’s African trip in the context of the depth of the political and economic crisis in the United States. Starting with the efforts of the G8 in calling for the western mining companies to follow laws and pay taxes, this commentary will reference the success of the Pan African opposition to Africom and US militarism that has predisposed the Obama administration to retreat from the perpetual Global War on Terror as conceived by the neo-conservatives. The conclusion will again call for the peace and justice forces to support reparative justice so that the relations between the citizens of the United States and the citizens of Africa can move in a new direction.

Beyond the Looting of African Resources

Barack Obama won a convincing victory for a second term in November 2012. However, despite the mandate he received from the electorate to break from the policies that enrich the one per cent, this second term has been bogged down because Obama has refused to take bold steps to join with the majority to confront the Wall Street moguls. Since Barack Obama entered the White House in January 2009, the question of which section of the US government directs policy towards Africa has swirled at home and abroad. These questions have taken on added importance in the face of the insurrections in Tunisia and Egypt and the instability unleashed by the NATO intervention in Libya.  Faced with new energies for change and unity in Africa (most manifest in the recent African Union gatherings by many forces in Addis Ababa this past May),[4] the US foreign policy establishment has reached a fork in the road. The main drivers of US foreign policy: Wall Street Bankers, petroleum and the military planners (along with the private military/intelligence contractors) have now been overtaken by a sharp shift in the engine of the global economy coming out of Asia. As more news of the corruption of the rigged financial architecture is revealed, all of the states of the G77 are looking for an alternative financial system that can protect them from the predators of Wall Street.[5]

With the details that traders of the biggest banks manipulated the benchmark foreign exchange rates involving $4.7 trillion dollars per day[6] coming on the heels of the LIBOR interest rate scandals after the energy price manipulation,[7] the peoples of Africa along with the rest of the world are finding out that under the current financial and political system there is no price that the big banks cannot exploit. It is the nature of the corrupted financial system to save the U.S. dollar that has driven societies such as South Africa into BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and is hastening the evolution of an alternative financial architecture. The organizational thrust of the economic formation called BRICS, along with the creation of the BRICS Development Bank, pose a serious challenge to the US dollar and the International Monetary Fund. Obama is following the example of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, by visiting South Africa to assess firsthand the political and social climate at a moment when all and sundry are looking for ways to get into Africa’s changing economic dynamic.

The nervousness and anxiety of the West over the future of the U.S. financial dominance was quite clear from the communique issued after the recent 2013 G8 meeting in Ireland. Most of the points in the communique issued by the White House (the Lough Erne Declaration) dealt with the challenges coming out of Africa and the role of transnational corporations plundering African resources without paying taxes.[8] Prior to the G8 meeting, the 2013 Report of the Africa Progress Panel headed by former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Anan called on the same G8 leaders to police their corporations. The Panel had called for inter alia:

* The G8 and the G20 to establish common rules requiring full public disclosure of the beneficial ownership of companies, with no exceptions.

* Companies bidding for natural resource concessions to disclose the names of the people who own and control them.[9]

The destructive extraction of resources from Africa is old and has taken new forms, as Patrick Bond reminds us in Looting Africa: The Economics of Exploitation.[10] For the past six decades the World Bank domination of economic arrangements in Africa has been the period of dramatic capital flight from Africa.[11] The multi-billion dollar enterprise of looting Africa was at the foundation of an international system that increasingly worked on the basis of speculative capital. The World Bank and the IMF understood that the real foundations of actual resources were to be found in Africa. To conceal the looting and plunder, the West disguised the reality that Africa is a net creditor to the advanced capitalist countries (termed “donors” in neo-liberal parlance). For this reason (and to perpetuate the myths of “spurring economic growth and investment”), the United States government has been caught in a losing battle where new rising forces such as Brazil, Russia, India, China, Turkey, South Korea and other states offer alternatives to the structural adjustment and austerity packages. Barack Obama is going to Africa to boost the armaments culture of the United States at a moment when details of the massive corporate-government spy operations has exposed the surveillance of citizens in all parts of the world in the name of fighting extremism. Citizens are finding out that the gathering of intelligence ultimately serves the interests of capital equity groups such as the Carlyle group that is involved in armaments, intelligence and the stock market.[12]

In a period when there were frequent scandals surrounding the manipulations of Wall Street bankers and speculators, the US government was dragged into the NATO led intervention that carried out regime change in Libya. The execution of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi reminded Africans of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba and countless other leaders of Africa.

Fallout from the Intervention in Libya

The fallout from the Libyan intervention has created insecurity and violence in all parts of North Africa and the Sahel, with racist elements within this Libyan uprising persecuting Africans as mercenaries.  I have detailed the experiences of this intervention in the book, Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya.[13] From the writers in the US academic establishment, the NATO intervention was a success. [14] However, decent peoples in all parts of the world have been outraged by the continued violence and the support for the murderous militias by Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. The persecution of the citizens of Tawergha stands as a permanent repudiation to the NATO intervention in Libya. U.S policy makers are treating the Libyan intervention the same way they treated the US alliance with the apartheid system for forty years. The media and the intellectual establishment in the United States would like all to forget that the hated apartheid system had been propped up by the United States and her cold war allies in Europe, Saudi Arabia and Japan.  African intellectuals and policy makers have not forgotten the support of the US foreign policy establishment for apartheid, for Mobutu Sese Seko in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and for Jonas Savimbi in Angola.

The disinformation on the operations of US supported militias had been covered up in the press until the ambassador of the United States to Libya and three others were consumed by intra-militia fighting in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. On June 22, 2013 the New York Times featured a lengthy article on the flow of arms to Syria from Libya but the writers from the Times omitted to outline the infrastructure of support for the Jihadists in Syria that had been established by David Petraeus when he was the head of the Central Intelligence Agency.  [15] We have Paula Broadwell to thank for exposing the fact that David Petraeus had the largest CIA station in North Africa in Benghazi after the NATO intervention.

US Policy in Africa in Disarray

The previous justifications for US engagement had been part of the logic for the establishment of the US Africa Command. For a while there was the fiction that the United States was supporting growth and trade (via the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA)), but the militarization of the engagement with Africa intensified after then Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force had designated African petroleum as “strategic” and colluded with Donald Rumsfeld to establish the Africa Command (AFRICOM). However, there was never any support for the idea of an African military command. It was universally opposed in Africa (except for the client state of Liberia). Within the United States, progressive scholars in the Association of Concerned African Scholars (ACAS) called for the dismantling of AFRICOM. Since the debacle in Libya, the word AFRICOM has rarely been uttered publicly by the Obama White House. The fact that the Obama administration is retreating from perpetual war and is disguising the militaristic activities of the Wall Street cabal is one more testament to the power of popular organizing to oppose militarism.

In June 2012, the White House issued a new policy statement on Africa. What was striking about this new White House Statement was that here was no mention of the US Africa Command.  The document was titled, “Policy towards Sub-Saharan Africa.”[16]

Many Africans did not pay much attention to this old ruse of seeking to divide Africa between so called sub- Saharan Africa and North Africa. The reality of the African Union is something that the US policy makers do not want to recognize; hence the State Department maintains the nomenclature of sub-Sahara Africa. In the new document of June 2012, the Obama White House spelt out four pillars of US policy towards Africa, repeating the talking points of George W. Bush minus the Global War on Terror global natolanguage. “The United States will partner with sub-Saharan African countries to pursue the following interdependent and mutually reinforcing objectives: (1) strengthen democratic institutions; (2) spur economic growth, trade, and investment; (3) advance peace and security; and (4) promote opportunity and development.” In the midst of the exposures by Edward Snowden of the massive “architecture of oppression” that is embodied in the surveillance programs of the U.S., the country’s policy makers are now on the defensive as diplomats all over the world absorb the extent of the electronic surveillance program operated by the United States National Security Agency.

When John Kerry spoke at the 50th anniversary of African Unity in Addis Ababa in May 2013, the U.S. Secretary of State did not mention the U.S. Africa Command or the War on Terror. Instead John Kerry spoke of the fact that his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, was part of the anti-apartheid struggles in Southern Africa when she was a student at the University of Witwatersrand. The Obama White House sought to build on the cultural capital of the U.S university system by the launch of Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). According to the Obama White House the “Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) is a long-term effort to invest in the next generation of African leaders and strengthen partnerships between the United States and Africa. This wide-ranging effort has been led by the White House and the U.S. Department of State in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Peace Corps. The next phase of YALI will develop a prestigious network of leaders across critical sectors, cement stronger ties to the United States, and offer follow-on leadership opportunities in Africa, with the goal of strengthening democratic institutions and spurring economic growth.” [17]

Despite these nice words, in the era of sequestration, the Obama administration could not find the funds to support this Initiative and the State Department has been calling on American universities to bear the costs of the summer programs that are planned under the YALI. This further reveals disinterest and lack of resources by the American Congress to support any form of U.S. policy towards Africa on matters not related to militarism. While there are no funds to support educational exchange, in the week of June 19, 2013, the US Senate under the initiative of Republican Senator James Inhofe authorized, “the Department of Defense to obligate up to $90 million to provide logistical support to the national military forces of Uganda to mitigate or eliminate the threat posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and bring an end to the murderous campaign of LRA leader Joseph Kony.”[18] This clear support of the conservatives in the United States for the Yoweri Museveni government in Kampala, under the guise of fighting Kony, comes at a moment when the Museveni leadership is being challenged, even from its own officer corps.  [19] More importantly, Republican Senator James Inhofe and the conservatives who initiated this new authorization are bent on supporting a regime where there are elements who believe that same-gender loving persons should be put to death.

Jihadists from the Sahel, Kony in East Africa and Al Shabab of Somalia are the elements mentioned when there is talk from the foreign policy establishment that Africa is being overrun by terrorists and that the US need to deploy AFRICOM. These forces have been pressuring the United States government to brand Boko Haram, the extreme Islamic fundamentalists in Nigeria, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. There has been so much opposition to this designation that the White House has recoiled from making this decision, and instead has designated three of the leaders of this organization as terrorists.

There were enough concerned scholars and activists who understood that naming the organization as terrorists would have been counterproductive with far-reaching negative consequences for Africa and for future relations between the United States and Africans. The experiences of the up and down relationship with groups in North Africa designated as terrorists has meant that many activists have been wary of way that the terrorism label has been deployed in Africa. In the past two years, there have been numerous press reports of heightened US military engagement in Africa. Reports in the Washington Post on the rising pressures of militarization carry the views of sections of the Pentagon with little reference to the actual balance of forces on the ground in the particular African societies where the US military and Central Intelligence Agency are supposed to be operating.  [20]

Obama as Commander in Chief of an Imperial State

While the novelty of the fact that Obama is the first African American President is wearing off, the reality has sunk in that Obama has been trapped by the power of the corporate bankers and entrenched imperial interests that must be safeguarded in order for the US to maintain its empire. When U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the corruption of the banks he stated, “I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them.”  Prosecutors, he said, must confront the problem that “if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy. And I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large.”[21]

When Obama entered the White House in January 2009, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner advised him that prosecuting the banks would have a negative impact on the world economy. Since that time, instead of nationalizing the banks, Barack Obama has been prisoner to the alliance between two of the least regulated sectors of the U.S. society: the banks and the military. In the light of the massive surveillance by the US government, Special Forces fomenting instability, secret prisons and targeted killings by drones, there have been some in the peace and justice forces who have proclaimed that Obama is worse than his predecessors, and some are now comparing Obama to former President Richard Nixon. In fact, some of the Republicans have ventured to say that George W. Bush had a friendlier foreign policy towards Africa.

Gary Yonge in the Guardian made the excellent argument in pointing out that Barack Obama is the Commander in Chief of the United States and is captive to US imperial power. In the article titled, “Is Obama Worse than Bush? That’s Beside the Point,”[22] Yonge traced the statements of Obama the candidate to the realities of Obama as the President of the United States.  His argument, that it is beside the point whether Obama is worse than Bush, is worth considering in light of the reality that the capitalist crisis facing the United States is far worse than when Bush was President 2001-2009. I will agree that the conditions of the repressive nature of the state have intensified in the midst of the global insecurity of capital, but where I would differ with Yonge would be for the progressive forces to intensify the efforts to hold the bankers accountable so that the militarists and the bankers do not take the world into other military catastrophes.

No doubt, conceptually and as a matter of principles and worldview, Obama is no Bush or Nixon and is different from the neo-cons. But his job description as President of the United States is to preserve the same American empire that Bush and the hawkish beneficiaries of the country’s military-financial-information complex have sought to protect by every means necessary. So Obama is trapped between his liberal worldview/principles and the demands of his job as the preserver-in-chief of the American empire.

When Obama was a presidential candidate for the first time, he was fond of saying that he understands Africa. He found out clearly in the debacle of Libya and Benghazi that whatever his understanding, it will only go so far unless he stands up to the foreign policy establishment. This he has refused to do and has surrounded himself with those elements of the intellectual and academic circuits that had supported apartheid.

Recently, Obama appointed Susan Rice as the National Security Adviser. Rice had been groomed in anti-communism by the Madeline Albright and Clinton factions of the establishment. When Susan Rice was student at Oxford in the 1980s, she reputedly looked the other way when students such as Tajudeen Abdul Raheem were opposing apartheid. She was a member of the ignominious Bill Clinton national security team that pressured the United Nations not to intervene at the time of the Rwanda genocide in 1994. Yet, this same Susan Rice along with Hilary Clinton and Samantha Powers were at the forefront of pushing for the US engagement with France and Britain to destroy Libya in 2011. This same Obama has appointed Samantha Powers to be the ambassador of the United States to the United Nations. Obama is again showing that the US policies towards Africa are in disarray.  The old pseudo humanitarianism of Powers and Rice has been overtaken by the hothouse of investors trekking to Africa rolling out projects to change Africa.

In his first trip to Africa in 2009, Obama had travelled to Cairo where he spoke of the linkages between all peoples, paying attention to the fact that “as a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam.”[23] One month after that speech, Barack Obama spoke in Accra, Ghana about his links to Africa and the heritage of the struggles for freedom in all parts of Africa. Since those two journeys in June and July 2009, Obama has had to hide his understanding of Africa because he has been faced with a racist group called the Birthers who claim that he was born in Kenya and is therefore illegitimate as a President. There is another strong constituency that allages  that Obama is a Muslim. Obama can rightly claim his Irish heritage from his mother’s side, but is mortally afraid of making any statement that may suggest that he is familiar with the political struggles in Africa.

We know from the book by Richard Wolffe, Renegade: The Making of a President, that during the height of the Democratic Party primary battles in Iowa in January 2008, Obama had invited his sister, Auma Obama, to Iowa so that he could be kept abreast of the social forces behind the violence in Kenya at the time. When he drove around Iowa, his sister was briefing him on the issues that sparked the opposition to the theft of the elections.  While preoccupied with the Iowa caucuses he was calling Kenya, reaching out to Desmond Tutu and taking an active role in seeking an end to the incredible violence that took hundreds of lives.[24]

Since 2009 the Kenyans have been building a massive airport at Kisumu so that Air Force One could land in Western Kenya. This was in anticipation of the visit of Obama to visit his relatives.   All of the planning for a Kenyan visit has had to be put on hold because of the outstanding questions of the initiators of the chilling violence that overtook Kenya in January 2008. Obama has instead opted to visit neighboring Tanzania.

Struggles within the Obama Administration over the Militarization of Africa

I have written extensively elsewhere about the statements of the Obama administration over ending perpetual war. In December of last year I commented on the debates within the military and foreign policy establishment. [25] On May 23, 2012 Obama gave his own speech at the National Defense University where he was carrying forward the line of Jeh Johnson after Johnson was pushed out of the Pentagon. But by the time of the May 23 speech, the Obama administration had been overtaken by the details of the massive police state apparatus that had been overseen by the National Security Agency (NSA). Hence, in the May 23 speech Obama attempted to defend the targeted killings with drones while also calling for a scaling back on the War on Terror. Exposing the weakness of his administration in failing to close down the dreaded Guantanamo prison, Obama stated, “History will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism and those of us who fail to end it. Imagine a future 10 years from now or 20 years from now when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not part of our country … Is this who we are?… Is that the America we want to leave our children?”

The hawks within the foreign policy establishment who had pushed the Obama administration into the Libyan intervention understand full well that Obama has yielded his capacity to provide leadership out of this current crisis of the system and the attendant militarism. The peace and social justice forces have not yet fully grasped the fact that it is up to the peace movement to delegitimize the militarism that is now engulfing the United States as the Obama administration cave in to John McCain, Bill Clinton and the military-financial-information complex to support the Jihadists in Syria. It is no news that Al Qaeda forms the bulk of the Jihadists in Syria, and only on June 21, 2013 it was reported that authorities in Spain had arrested Al Qaeda elements recruiting fighters for the Jihadist cause in Syria.[26]  It was more than 8 years ago when Seymour Hersh revealed the advanced plans for the war against Iran.  Col. Lawrence Wilkerson has stated more than once that the arming of Syrian rebels will be a backdoor to the war against Iran.[27] Barack Obama had opposed this plan for immediate war with Iran and fired James Mattis as the head of the US Central Command. In the absence of a robust peace movement, the private equity forces want to keep the order books going for military contracting so the expansion of wars in the Middle East will be the answer for the winding down of an unpopular war in Afghanistan.

Barack Obama is travelling to Africa at a moment when African progressives are completely opposed to the support for the Jihadists in Syria. As Samir Amin rightly expressed, one cannot be opposed to terrorists in Mali and support the same elements in Aleppo. Obama’s remarks on May 23 were characterized by a basic contradiction. He sought to defend drone assassinations worldwide, while at the same time essentially acknowledging their illegality and the illegality of much of what the American government has done over the past decade. Obama is travelling to Africa without resolving the outstanding contradictions of repudiating US militarization of Africa.

Foreign policy and domestic policies

It is important to restate the obvious that the thrust of US foreign policy towards Africa will be shaped by its domestic policies towards Africans inside the United States. It remains a truism that the foreign policy of any society is a reflection of its domestic policies. Currently, the US policy towards Africa is not different from the racist and militaristic position inside the urban areas of the United States where the majority of African descendants reside. Unemployment in the United States is highest inside the black and brown communities. Africans inside the United States are warehoused in the massive prison industrial complex which is one sub set of the military financial complex. While the banks are being rescued and given a handsome US $85 billion every month as part of a stimulus package, the poor are bearing the costs of the crisis, schools are being closed, and hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on more prison construction.[28]   The lesson of the complete takeover of the city of Detroit shows that the capitalists have no respect for democracy. Obama cannot go to support democracy in Africa when there is no democracy in Detroit.

The Obama administration has been trapped by the history and practices of financial industry, the military intelligence corporations and the petroleum companies. From very early in 2009, the Obama administration understood that financial innovation was not socially valuable. Slowly it was being revealed in books and in commentaries that much of what investment bankers do is socially worthless.[29] These same books and economists have been warning that the current neo-liberal forms of financialization will lead to another financial meltdown.[30]  It is now becoming clear that the World Bank is itself inextricably linked to this web of finance and that when the White House writes that the US will be “Expanding African Capacity to Effectively Access and Benefit from Global Markets,” this is a code for the private equity industry.

Despite this knowledge of the socially worthless basis of the market driven polices, the intellectual infrastructures of the Africanist enterprise have written reams of papers seeking to divert attention from the exploitation, joblessness, homelessness and brutalities that sparked the popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Strategic think tanks in the United States have been reflecting on the implications of the revolutionary processes underway in Africa. The intellectuals and consultants have drawn up “stress tests” to measure the susceptibility of particular African societies to revolutionary insurrections. Those conjuring the “stress tests” are quite aware of the scholarly output as well as the activists who are now standing up for Africa.[31] It is in this context of the African Awakening where the same intellectuals and consultants who have never questioned the assassination of leaders such as Patrice Lumumba are putting forward stress tests for certain African governments. Reporters from the mainstream media such as the Washington Post who are unfamiliar with the recent history of Africa would not know that the heightened US intelligence operations are precisely in those societies where the strategic thinkers were placing stress tests.[32] I have argued that the social forces in the United States who support peace cannot be carried away by the number of articles and Congressional subventions for the US military and the Africom.

Official statements from the US Africa Command about peacekeeping and humanitarianism in Africa have been silent on the warfare and plunder in the Eastern Congo where the military allies of the United States, Rwanda and Uganda have been indicted for looting the natural resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This week John Kerry as the Secretary of State appointed former Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin as the Special Envoy to the DRC. However, this is too little and too late because the AU has made a clear decision to upset the planning of those external forces who want to dismember the DRC. Compared with countries such as Brazil, South Korea, Australia and China that are engaging with Africa for substantive economic relations and infrastructural development, the realities of US policy toward Africa seem to suggest that the US has nothing to offer, other than military relations. The United States is peripheral to the major plans for the unification of Africa that are being rolled out in every region and coordinated by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). In a changed world situation, the United States will continue to be sidelined in areas of deep economic transformation in Africa in so far as US engagement with Africa is primarily through military relations. It is the task of serious peace activists to bring out the contradictions of US military engagement with Africa so that the Obama White House will be explicit in its position on the US Africa command.

Reparative Justice for Africans at Home and Abroad

The legacies of enslavement, colonialism and apartheid dominate the social landscape in Africa. Recent scholarship on the health impacts of enslavement have pointed out the contemporary health questions in the African community in the West that emanate directly from slavery. [33] Harriet Washington in the excellent book, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present [34] has deepened our understanding of how many of the health practices of contemporary western medicine can be traced back to the era of enslavement. For the past thirty years Africans at home and abroad have made it clear that there can be no genuine engagement with the West until there is a clear apology for the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and until real efforts are made for repair. When Africans and their allies made the case for the apology at the World Conference against Racism in Durban in 2011, the West intervened and pressured Presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal to repudiate the call for reparations, and instead push for a program called New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). The so called Millennium Development Goals were also placed as a diversion from the calls of the World Conference against Racism (WCAR) for the western history books to accept that the slave trade constituted a crime against humanity.  The Obama administration in 2009 cooperated with the old State Department hands to undermine the efforts of the 2009 U.N. Durban Review Conference, which was a follow-Up to the 2001 U.N. World Conference against Racism. However, Africans in every part of the planet remain tenacious that this matter of the slave trade will forever hold back humanity.

Kenyans have also shown the same tenacity by their efforts to hold the British government responsible for the crimes carried out by the British army when they attempted to crush the struggles against colonialism.

Inopportune Time for Obama’s Visit

It is time for the dismantling of AFRICOM and for Africans to redefine the relations where the US will start from apologizing for the assassination of Patrice Lumumba and the associated acts of destabilization of Africa over the past fifty years. In those fifty years, the US undermined the processes of self-determination, supported the apartheid regimes in Southern Africa (Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe along with the Portuguese colonial forces in Angola and Mozambique), supported Jonas Savimbi for over twenty years, intervened in Somalia, destabilized the DRC by supporting Mobutu Sese Seko or thirty years, and most recently supported NATO to create havoc in Libya. At the most recent meeting of the African Union in Addis Ababa in May 2013, there were clear statements from the grassroots for the immediate unification of Africa. The confidence of the Global Pan African Family was clearly on display. The Obama administration understands the deep desires for change in Africa. Many of the current leaders who occupy office in Africa are teetering on the brink of extinction. There must be a break from the old US policy towards Africa that propped up tyrants and looters. While the media is complaining about the cost of the trip, the progressive intellectuals and activists in the US and in Africa must organize to oppose militarism and plunder in Africa. This is an inopportune moment for Obama to travel to Africa unless he is going to repudiate the growing police state that he is supervising. The mainstream establishment of the United States of America has nothing substantial other than militarism to offer Africa.  This trip to Africa is a PR effort to solidify his legacy and garner waning support from his base in the United States.

Ultimately, President Obama must understand that in a changed world situation where the international system is being reconfigured by the awakening caused by the youths’ revolutionary energy and the emergence of China and other key players in Africa, to become relevant on the continent, the US must change its policy from that of militarism to one that supports the aspirations of ordinary Africans: education, healthcare, infrastructure,  environmental repair, and decent livelihoods.

Horace Campbell is Professor of African American Studies and Political Science, Syracuse University. He is the author of Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya, Monthly Review Press, 2013. 

Notes.


[1] Office of the Press Secretary, “Statement by the Press Secretary on the President’s Travel to Africa,” May 20, 2013 http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/05/20/statement-press-secretary-president-s-travel-africa.

[2] Office of the Press Secretary, “Statement by the Press Secretary on the President’s Travel to Africa,” May 20, 2013 http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/05/20/statement-press-secretary-president-s-travel-africa.

[3] Wayne M. Morrison & Marc Labonte, China’s Holdings of U.S. Securities: Implications for the U.S. Economy, December 6, 2012 http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL34314.pdf.

[4] “Panafricanism & African Renaissance: Twenty-First African Union Summit,” May 19-27, 2013. http://summits.au.int/en/21stsummit

[5] Matt Taibbi, “Everything Is Rigged: The Biggest Price-Fixing Scandal Ever,” Rolling Stone, April 25, 2013. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/. See also Charles H. Ferguson, Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption and the Hijacking of America, Crown Publishers, New York, 2012.

[6] Liam Vaughan, Gavin Finch & Ambereen Choudhury, “Traders Said to Rig Currency Rates to Profit Off Clients,” Bloomberg News, June 12, 2013,  http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-06-11/traders-said-to-rig-currency-rates-to-profit-off-clients.html

[7] “Libor Scandal Explained and What Rate-Rigging Means to You.” July 18, 2012, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/perfi/credit/story/2012-07-18/libor-interest-rate-scandal/56322230/1

[8]  http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/06/18/lough-erne-declaration 

[9] The 2013 Africa Progress Report, “Equity in Extractives”, was launched by Kofi Annan and the Panel on 10 May 2013 at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town, South Africa.

[10] Patrick Bond,Looting Africa:The Politics of Exploitation, Zed Books, London, 2005

[11] James K. Boyce and Léonce Ndikumana, Africa’s Odious Debts: How Foreign Loans and Capital Flight Bled a Continent, Zed Books, London 2011.

[12] Drake Bennett and Michael Riley, “Booz Allen, the World’s Most Profitable Spy Organization,” Bloomberg News, June 20,2013, http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-06-20/booz-allen-the-worlds-most-profitable-spy-organization

[13] Horace Campbell, Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya, Monthly Review Press, New York 2013

[14] Dirk Vanderwalle, “After Qaddafi: The Surprising Success of the New Libya,” Foreign Affairs, November/December 2012

[15] C. J. CHIVERS, ERIC SCHMITT and MARK MAZZETTI, In Turnabout, Syria Rebels Get Libyan Weapons, New York Times, June 21, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/22/world/africa/in-a-turnabout-syria-rebels-get-libyan-weapons.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

[16] The White House, “US Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa,” June 2012. http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/africa_strategy_2.pdf.

[17] Department of State, Young African leaders Initiative, http://www.state.gov/p/af/rt/pyali/

[18] “Inhofe Completes Successful Markup of National Defense Authorization Act,” June 14, 2013. http://www.inhofe.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/inhofe-completes-successful-markup-of-national-defense-authorization-act

[19] BBC, “Uganda’s David Sejusa: ‘Oppose Museveni’s monarchy’, June 18, 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-22957712

[20] Craig Whitlock, U.S. expands secret intelligence operations in Africa, Washington Post, June 13, 2012, http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-06-13/world/35462541_1_burkina-faso-air-bases-sahara

[21]  “Holder, Banks may be too large to prosecute,” Wall Street Journal, March 6, 2013, http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2013/03/06/holder-banks-may-be-too-large-to-prosecute/

[22] Gary Yonge, “Is Obama Worse than Bush? That’s Beside the Point,” Guardian, UK, June 21, 2013. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jun/21/obama-worse-than-bush.

[23] “Remarks by the President on a New Beginning”, Cairo University, June 4, 2009. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-cairo-university-6-04-09

[24] Richard Wolffe, Renegade: The Making of a President, Crown Publishers, 2009, page 246.

[25] Horace Campbell, War on Terror Not Endless? A Pan-Africa View, Pambazuka News, December 6, 2012. http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/85698.

[26] “Spain Arrests 8 Suspected Al Qaeda Recruiters in Ceuta Enclave,” Huffington Post, June 21, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/21/spain-arrests-8-suspected-al-qaeda_n_3478043.html.

[27] “The Backdoor War with Iran,” The Real News, April 10, 2013. http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=9799.

[28] See for example, Matt Stroud, “Philadelphia Schools Closing While A New $400 Million Prison Is Under Construction: Could It Be Worse Than It Sounds?” Forbes, June 17, 2013. http://www.forbes.com/sites/mattstroud/2013/06/17/philadelphia-schools-closing-while-new-400-million-prison-under-construction/.

[29] John Cassidy, “What Good Is Wall Street?” New Yorker, November 28, 2010, http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/11/29/101129fa_fact_cassidy?currentPage=all.

[30] Simon Johnson and James Kwak, 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown, Pantheon Books, New York, 2010.

[31] Firoze Manji and Sokari Ekine, African Awakening: Emerging Revolutions, Fahamu Books, Oxford, 2012.

[32]Center for Strategic and International Studies, “Stress-testing African States, June 2011, http://csis.org/program/stress-testing-african-states.

[33] Hilary Beckles, Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Slavery and Native Genocide, University of the West Indies Press, 2013

[34] Harriet Washington, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present,Anchor Books, New York 2008