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.

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