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Sunday, April 25, 2010

In Africa, the Hypocrisy of the Obama Administration is Inexcusable

The United States fears Africa is becoming a place of increasing competition from China mostly, but also Brazil, Russia, and the European Union. African countries like Angola or Zimbabwe who were once forced to depend on the patronage of the IMF and World Bank are less dependent on America's hegemonic financial institutions than anytime in the last 20 years. The growing complexity of actors has opened the possibility of greater independence in national economic and social policy-making in African countries from the dictates of Washington D.C. With the threat of increased competition and the level of oil imports from Africa going up as much 20 percent, the U.S. is engaging in its most extensive imperial quests in Africa since the end of the Cold War.Ironically, this assault is advancing under the leadership of one of Africa's own "sons", U.S. President Barack Obama.

Hiding behind the rhetoric of limited government and individual liberties, the United States is protecting some of the most repressive regimes in the world. The Obama administration is intensifying President Bush's plan to militarily support anti-democratic regimes throughout the continent. These regimes are responsible for grave human rights violations and widespread persecution of political and national minorities according to prominent Western human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The ridiculous level of hypocrisy in U.S. foreign policy proves that the Obama administration is concerned neither with human rights or participatory democracy but stability against any actor that could potentially threaten their perceived political and economic interests. Eritrea, a small East African nation that shares a contentious border with Ethiopia, has refused to support a U.S. war in the Horn of Africa and reportedly rejected a demand from the U.S. military to host a U.S. base in the Red Sea port of Assab off its coast. Eritrea's intransigence earned it a spot on the U.S. terrorist list. The Obama administration froze existing ties with Eritrea and claimed that the "government acted as a principal source and conduit for arms to antigovernment, extremist, and insurgent groups in Somalia." The Eritrean government vehemently denies supporting such groups. Meanwhile, the same Obama administration has increased military funding by more than 300 per cent for African countries that support its foreign policy aims including Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Djibouti, Ethiopia, Equitorial Guinea, Algeria and Nigeria. Each of these governments are infamously known for exceptional corruption and state repression against political opponents.

The hypocrisy of the Obama administration does not end with military intervention. The administration has also teamed up with billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates to extend U.S. influence and guarantee multinational corporate access to African agricultural markets. Their strategy is to maintain leverage in African affairs by creating new systems of aid dependency for U.S. technical and financial support in the area of food production. In this way the administration approaches aid as an issue of national security. The interests of the U.S. military, multinational corporations and aid NGO's intersect as the three groups meet to share talking points and communication strategies. Their latest gimmick is $408 million for a World Bank fund to encourage "good" farming practices in the developing world. However, as Mukoma Wa Ngugi of Pambazuka news points out, the reason why so many African's go hungry in a global economy of abundance is not for a lack of "free" markets or U.S. aid but the existing neo-colonial models of political economy in African countries that maintain unequal social relations.
"Hunger in Africa is mostly a political and economic disparity problem. To end hunger, political stability, proper distribution of food and land within nations, and less emphasis on cash-crop farming and more on food- crop farming will be more effective, friendlier to the environment and less costly than the super-seeds that will require tons of pesticides - and eventually, cost a lot of money."
With Barack Obama as the chief spokesman, the U.S. government is in the midst of a major public relations campaign to re-brand themselves as a partner of African countries rather than an imperial power. This shift is mostly in response to the failures of the World Bank and IMF's unpopular structural adjustment programs that imposed ruthless neo-liberal conditions on the re-payment of loans and led to a backlash in the form of renewed calls for national sovereignty. However, this new American re-branding effort should not be confused with a genuine attempt to re-start U.S.-Africa relations on equal terms. The conditions of U.S. bilateral partnership in the form of technical and financial assistance are not limited to specific development projects but amount to a sophisticated form of blackmail with the U.S. interfering in the way government's run their internal politics and manage their economies.

The most notorious example of this form of blackmail is no where more obvious than through a bilateral development fund known as the Millennium Challenge Account. The completely biased conditions for financial support from the account include "economic freedom" and "civil liberties" as defined by far right-wing think tanks like the U.S. Heritage Foundation. Smaller, cash-strapped African countries like Senegal, are particularly vulnerable to this scheme being forced to 'behave' in a manner that is acceptable to conservatives in the U.S. in exchange for aid.

In the final analysis, U.S. strategists fear that the further waning of their exclusive post-Cold War influence will impinge on long-term economic and political "interests" in Africa, which include unlimited access to natural resources and markets for U.S. goods. Therefore, the Obama administration is determined to put more financial resources into promoting a balance of power more favorable to its interests with proxy military initiatives and Trojan Horse development aid designed to promote dependency on the U.S. At the same time, the administration is deceptively using the rhetoric of partnership and mutuality to provide cover for African elites allied with the interests of the U.S. military, foreign investors and multinational corporations. There is no amount of Kenyan heritage that should absolve Barack Obama and his administration of responsibility for intensifying the scourge of U.S. imperialism in Africa. For a man who is quick to preach personal responsibility in front of large audiences of black Americans and continental Africans, Obama should hold himself accountable for the actions of his administration under his watch.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Fascinating Internal Politics and History of Yemen

The U.S. is waging two major wars at once (one is the longest war in U.S. history) and indirectly managing conflicts in several other countries in central asia and the middle-east. Need I not mention here how tragically dismissive of human life these extended campaigns have been, even to the point of jeopardizing the imperial mission its self. After the attempted bombing of a U.S. flight into Detroit, Yemen received a lot of press attention for allegedly providing the safe haven where a Nigerian attempted underwear bomber was armed. Since then, one can scarcely find a mention of the vitally important country of Yemen and the U.S. military's support for an immoral counter-insurgency campaign that is destroying the lives of countless people whose only crime is an unyielding desire for survival. Not only is Yemen's government committing violent atrocities against its own people and denying basic civil liberties, but it is doing so with military weapons and money from that eternal beacon of liberty and hope known as the U.S. government.

Beyond the external geopolitics of Yemen is a really interesting story of internal conflict and struggles for self-determination and social justice. These internal dramas are often sucked-up by global struggles for hegemony, but remain important to the fate of the middle-east region as a whole. Author and activist Tariq Ali recently wrote an amazing narrative of his recent trip to Yemen and a brief history of its politics. I'm sharing it here because his piece is a rare opportunity to put a human face on a country that has become another chess piece in America's wasted march for "victory".
Yemen is a proper country, unlike the imperial petrol stations dotted across other parts of the Arabian Peninsula, where the ruling elites live in hurriedly constructed skyscrapers designed by celebrity architects, flanked by shopping malls displaying every Western brand, and serviced by wage-slaves from South Asia and the Philippines. Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, was founded when the Old Testament was still being written, edited and collated. It’s true that the new M√∂venpick hotel in the heart of the city’s diplomatic enclave is reminiscent of Dubai at its worst – when I was there it was pushing its Valentine’s Day Dinner Menu – but in Yemen the elite is careful and doesn’t flaunt its wealth. Click here to read the rest of Ali's article in the London Review of Books.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sudan and Democratization in Africa

If you randomly drew a name of an African country from a hat and chose Sudan, you would have a pretty decent sample of the issues facing other large countries in the continent. Sudan is representative of the ethnic/ religious conflicts, natural resource dependency, and immense divide between urban and rural areas that make the process of democratization, as defined by the West, onerous if not inconceivable. This week, Sudan is in the process of voting in multi-party national elections for the first time in more than 20 years. Two of the major opposition parties have dropped out of the race, but outside election observers like former U.S. President Jimmy Carter think the vote can be free and fair.

However, underlying questions remain about the election process and the expected results. Al Jazeera reported on irregularities at several polling stations and the perception among opposition parties that the outcome will be illegitimate in the final analysis. Furthermore, the National Electoral Commission in Sudan has undermined the credibility of the entire process by breaching the standards of Sudan's own election Act. Hafiz Mohammed from Making Sense of Sudan, writes the following list to spell out the faults of the NEC to date,

- By bringing forward the date at which any candidate supposed to withdraw his/her candidateship by one month from the 12 of March to the 12 of April without any justification.

- The accepted back the candidateships of SPLM candidates for the National Assembly from South Kordofan , after they withdraw them within the legal time frame, which was because the NCP and SPLM agreed to that, although it was a clear breach of the law.

- Many of the polling station staff are members of the NCP, and some are from the neighbourhood popular committees which are totally controlled by the NCP.

- Allowing the certificates from the popular committee to be used as source of identification for voters, without using any extra document, has been common. That a clear breach of their own rules, and opens the gate to frauds. That is clear in many polling stations, in the first day of voting as, some NCP members are sitting near to the polling station issuing certificate to allow people to vote without any further checks.
- Most of the people chosen as local observers are members of the NCP, and that also clear violation of the rules as people are not allowed to be monitors if they are member of a political party or support any candidate election campaign.

- The language the NEC is using to respond to any complaint from other political parties is just an imitation of the NCP leaders’ language, so that they are seen as taking sides in the ongoing political dispute between the NCP and other political parties. That led other political parties passing a vote of no confidence on it.
What the elections in Sudan teach us is that procedural democracy is not a magic bullet. Elections alone can't resolve all of the historical and institutional contradictions facing territorially large African nations like Sudan. And while we may hope otherwise, there is no evidence that democracy with African characteristics can ever flourish without striking at the roots of internal conflict. That being said, the elections at hand are vital for short-term peace and reconciliation in Sudan. Though imperfect, the elections are a first step toward the necessary "deracializing civil society, detribalizing the Native Authority, and developing the economy in the context of unequal international relations", which Sudan and other large African countries have so far failed to accomplish.

For the first time in 25 years, there are enough Sudanese power brokers and citizens who are ready to give peace a chance.