Date: Sun, 05 Apr 1998 17:55:00 -0400
From: Latir Downes-Thomas <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: GAMBIA-L: The Gambia and Related Issues Mailing List <email@example.com>
Subject: FWD: Into Africa (The Nation/Editorial)
The Nation Editorial
20 April 1998
Escaping Ken Starr and shoring up the black vote aside, one thing is
clear from Bill Clinton's imperial safari through Africa: Despite his
claims to the contrary, there is as much of a "Scramble for Africa" now
as there was during colonial or cold war times. Now, though, the
scramble is for Africa's huge undeveloped markets and vast energy
reserves rather than for slaves and coffee plantations or military bases
and ideological beachheads.
"Trade Not Aid" has become the Administration's maxim for engagement
with Africa. The continent has become immensely appealing to U.S.
corporations. During his tour Clinton said that U.S. companies there
were reaping a 30 percent return on investment; the United States
currently imports more oil from Africa than from the Middle East.
Clinton touts a partnership with Africa as "enlightened self-interest,"
but some Africans are wary. The President's upbeat marketing of the
"African Renaissance" was beneficial for the continent's world image,
but Africans have long experience with pale-faced visitors who come to
trade and end up running things--ostensibly to protect their mercantile
And so South African President Nelson Mandela wasn't being just plain
ornery in Cape Town when he lectured Clinton on how Washington should
conduct its foreign policy. Mandela's comment on U.S. disapproval of his
nation's good relations with Libya and Cuba--anyone who tries to tell
him who his friends should be can "go jump in the pool"--came as no
surprise. What perplexes U.S. officials is his strident opposition to
the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a bipartisan measure that
attempts to buttress the Trade Not Aid approach by allowing tariff-free
commerce with the United States so long as African countries meet
stringent requirements on human rights, democratic reform and commitment
to free-market economics.
The law, championed by House liberals like Charles Rangel, was a
response to those who believe that U.S. trade policy should penalize
dictators like Nigeria's Sani Abacha. This philosophy evolves from
Congress's antiapartheid sanctions in the eighties. Today South Africa
is one of only a handful of African nations that could meet the criteria
laid out by Congress.
Why, then, is Mandela complaining? Given U.S. double standards, he has
reason to be skeptical. For example, the Clinton safari, a public
relations exercise, visited only "good" African countries. Three of
those he bypassed--Nigeria, Angola and Gabon--are not functioning
democracies, yet they are the United States' largest trading partners in
Africa because of their oil fields. Democracy or not, Washington is
hardly going to shut down its pipeline from Lagos.
And in Rwanda, Clinton apologized for not having acted more quickly to
stop the genocide of 1994, in which Hutu extremists slaughtered hundreds
of thousands of Tutsis. "All over the world," he said, "there were
people like me sitting in offices, day after day, who did not fully
appreciate the depth and the speed with which you were being engulfed by
this unimaginable terror." This may sound like contrition, but in fact
it was one of the most baldly cynical gambits of the Clinton trip. In
1994 Clinton chose to ignore a C.I.A. study that predicted the genocide
in Rwanda because it wasn't in his political interest to act.
Now that Central Africa's key power-broker is the Tutsi president of
Rwanda, Gen. Paul Kagame, contrition is in order. In neighboring Uganda,
special envoy to Africa Jesse Jackson was asked why the United States
was so supportive of President Yoweri Museveni, who has yet to install
multiparty democracy: "Uganda's democracy is eleven years old," Jackson
responded. "Look at ours after eleven years....The struggle for
democracy is a continuing battle to expand and even [includes] some
period for experimentation." This could be a refreshing understanding
that Washington cannot impose its interpretations of democracy on
others, or it could be expedient rationalization because Uganda is
Washington's greatest ally in the fight against Islamic fundamentalism
in Sudan. Will Uganda cease to be "democratic" when it's no longer
useful to Washington?
When Mandela lectured Clinton in Cape Town, he was using his position as
Africa's senior statesman to make a point about U.S. attitudes toward
Africa and the fact that, as a senior South African government official
puts it, "Clinton spurts forth about a partnership with new, truly
independent Africa, yet America continues to decide, unilaterally, which
of us is democratic and which isn't. When will America realize that a
prescriptive foreign policy, subject to conditionality, is just another
form of colonialism?"
For all his "African Renaissance" hype, Clinton knows that most of
Africa remains poor, illiterate, jobless, sickly. His promise to conjure
up more aid and more debt relief for Africa is to be applauded. Also
laudable is the objective of using trade to punish dictatorships. But if
the United States is serious about forging a partnership with modern
Africa, it must establish a sound, objective and consistent basis for
economic interaction. This means either depoliticizing trade
entirely--which is what Mandela suggests--or, alternatively, cutting
that pipeline from Lagos until Sani Abacha stops his thuggery.
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