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Date: Sun, 05 Apr 1998 17:55:00 -0400
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From: Latir Downes-Thomas <latir@earthlink.net>
To: GAMBIA-L: The Gambia and Related Issues Mailing List <gambia-l@u.washington.edu>
Subject: FWD: Into Africa (The Nation/Editorial)

Into Africa

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 interests.

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.

The Nation Digital Edition http://www.thenation.com

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