Friend: Is the US just playing catch-up, or stumbling toward neo-colonialism?
As the old colonial powers—Britain, France, Portugal, and
Belgium—retreat from Africa, the US is rushing in. Angola,
Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and even
obscure African countries are appearing on every Clinton
official’s itinerary. Does this diplomatic frenzy support a
coordinated US foreign policy agenda? Or, is it driven by less noble,
even colonialist economic objectives? Since the recent flurry of State
Department attention was preceded by the signing of questionable
mineral, communications, and financial deals by highly-leveraged US
corporations, it’s a fair question. US newspaper headlines
trumpet the trend:
American Mineral Fields Corporation of Arkansas in
billion dollar mineral deal,
New Millennium Investment, Inc. of
Washington signs Congo telecommunications agreement, and
Tempelsman & Son Investment Group proposes Angolan diamond
operation. Grandiose financial statements follow with almost frantic
regularity. And most of the corporations making these announcements
have heavyweight lobbyists from both sides of the political aisle.
For example, Barrick Gold Corp., an influential Canadian-US mining conglomerate which recently announced an 83,000-square-kilometer concession in Congo’s Kivu province, has ex-Secretary of State James Baker, Bush’s old point man, on its advisory panel. Meanwhile, through Citizens Energy International, Inc., the Kennedy family has interests in Continental Oil’s Angolan oil exploration projects, even though the area is a war zone. The Kennedy connection to Democratic campaign contributor Maurice Tempelsman reportedly facilitated support for his company’s Angolan diamond proposal from State Department and former National Security Advisor Anthony Lake. Lake instructed a senior deputy to call the US Export-Import Bank about possible financing, even though this violates guidelines prohibiting the bank from guaranteeing import/export financing to areas embroiled in civil unrest.
And, as if this pressure on the State Department to support certain
African governments—be they democratic or
despotic—isn’t enough, the US military is also a
African governments recognize our military expertise, a
Pentagon spokesman emphasized on conditions of anonymity, when
questioned about US training teams ensconced as permanent fixtures in
Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and half a dozen other African countries. US
Special Forces also train 700-person rapid deployment battalions in
Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Ethiopia, ostensibly for
duties. But the nature of their duties remains vaguely defined.
Military and political involvement is raising concern in some
Washington quarters, however. Rep. Ben Gilman, Chair of the Foreign
Relations Committee, was sufficiently curious in July 1997 to ask if
the US military was training the Rwandan army in
in Gisenyi commune on the Congo/Rwandan border, commonly called
killing fields by local Hutu refugees. The army’s answer: Only
humanitarian assistance was involved. But the same words were used
to justify US involvement in Vietnam and early Soviet moves in the
With Madeleine Albright’s seven-nation Africa trip in December,
the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s appointment as President
Clinton’s special emissary, and Harold Wolpe’s designation
as the Great Lakes envoy, many Africa observers are beginning to
wonder if US engagement has sinister overtones.
We are seeing a new
colonialization in Africa, a World Bank official admits,
it’s by American speculators with minimum cash/maximum profit
ventures based on short-term, low-risk exit plans. US political and
military muscle is being used to facilitate the rape of Africa’s
resources by American multinationals backed by both Democratic and
Rev. Jackson’s December speech in Nairobi did little to dispel
Africa’s raw material base is just exploding
with potential, he explained at a US Embassy gathering,
it’s new oil finds in Angola and Gabon, or gold and diamonds,
copper and uranium in Southern Africa.
So, what is the Clinton Administration’s policy? Does the US
fully grasp the potential pitfalls in African countries where the odds
of achieving democratic government are greater than their peasant
populations achieving a minimum per capital income of $150 a year?
Unfortunately, the answer is clouded by rhetoric.
The stakes are
too high for us to stand aloof, UN Ambassador Bill Richardson told
the House International Relations Committee in November, following his
visit to the Congo,
and the United States is maintaining a policy
of cautious engagement. He elaborated:
But we have a range of
other interests in the region and intend to encourage the new African
governments to undertake necessary political and economic reforms and
to play a constructive role in the region. Commenting on
Albright’s tour, State Department spokesperson James Foley
The trip will focus on advancing US interests in the Great
Lakes region, justice and the rule of law, stability, and economic
What justice and what rule of law? a cynical
Red Cross official asks, surveying the burned-out hulk of a prison in
Bulinga, Rwanda, following a rebel Hutu attack on Dec. 4 that left 10
And whose economic interests? wonders Arnold
Bisasi, an opposition Uganda Freedom Movement spokesperson.
of Uganda, or that of American businessmen exploiting our raw material
Another question is whether US pressure and financial muscle will have a moderating impact on governments that maintain power through corruption, terror, and subjugation of their populations. Or this: Is it reasonable to expect that corporations will become responsible, nation-building partners?
It doubt it, says British Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
official Andrew Davidson.
After all, the US tried it with Mobutu
for 30 years, and look at how successful that was. As an
afterthought, he added:
We don’t seem to have much better
luck. Just look at how President Moi of Kenya manipulated the
elections, President Mugabe in Zimbabwe confiscates farmland, and
President Chiluba’s Zambian police shoot at his rival
ex-President Kenneth Kaunda, while our own multinationals exploit East
Africa’s agricultural industries.
Ulrike Wilson, the IMF representative in Kampala, is more hopeful,
describing Ugandan President Museveni as
extremely pragmatic and
forward-thinking. She points to economic liberalization, a
freewheeling press, and tolerance of opposition voices—if not
opposition parties. Her argument is that Uganda is a shining example
of how the US and African countries can work together to advance both
democracy and economic growth. After years of decline under Idi Amin,
a seven percent growth rate in 1997 certainly provides some
proof. South Africa’s multi-racial progress is also presented as
evidence that international big business can promote Africa’s
Commerce and democracy are two sides of the
same coin, quips an AT&T executive, contemplating his
company’s burgeoning South African operations.
But as the US gets increasingly involved, policies and objectives
remain less than clear. A Carnegie Foundation researcher asks
Is there a coherent US African policy, or is the
Administration being dragged into relationships with corrupt and
volatile regimes by American corporations seeking to exploit
Africa’s gold, diamond, oil, and copper resources? Another
fair question when one considers the sudden involvement of business
giants Bechtel, Goldman Sachs, and the American Diamond Buyers group
in the Congo and Angola. Military involvement is also expanding
without a clear objective. With staging bases in Mombasa and Addis
Ababa, and training missions in Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, and
elsewhere, the US may be forming a military
Even the admirable concept of training battalions to form an
indigenous peacekeeping force has no defined guidelines. Who will be
in overall command? Will US or African generals give the orders? What
are the specific parameters for using this force? And who will pay for
any military adventurism? Thus far, such questions haven’t been
This US-trained and -supplied force will be used to oppress
indigenous opposition movements with American hardware, charges
Elly Kigozi, an opposition Uganda Federal Alliance military commander,
from his undisclosed location.
Congress can’t really believe
that the Ugandan government will allow American generals to control
its own battalions, can they? They can’t be that stupid,
More worrisome to US civil liberties groups is covert CIA involvement
in destabilizing the Islamic fundamentalist government of the
Sudan. Involvement in the internal affairs of African nations raises
serious moral issues, argues Rev. Richard Rogers of the Southern Sudan
Relief Committee. Over $20 million has been spent on the pretext that
the rogue Khartoum regime sponsors international terrorism. Egyptian
intelligence and Al-Sha’b newspaper report that up to 850 US
military advisers are training guerrillas for the SPLA (Sudanese
Peoples Liberation Army) of rebel John Garang. But US support seems
to lack clear direction.
We’re not against Islam, Garang
said during a December visit to Egypt, contradicting US
policy. Meanwhile, General Omar Hassan Al-Bashir maintains control,
while the SPLA splinters into factions, some siding with
Economic sanctions are applied half-heartedly, mainly due to pressure
from US corporations dependent on the Sudan’s gum Arabic exports
Is this just another case of corporate America
driving foreign policy instead of the other way around? asks a
Lebanese businessman, lamenting the demise of his diamond buying
enterprise in the Congo.
Meanwhile, relief organizations are concerned by another trend: US oil
and mining corporations that hire mercenary protection
forces. Tensions between the local black-clad
Cobra militia in
Congo Brazzaville and ex-US military personnel guarding US oil
facilities in Cabinda are already at flash point.
This is bound to
spill over into our operations, predicts relief worker Andrew
It’s arrogant of them to have their own private
armies on someone else’s national territory, and there seems to
be no direction on this by the US government.
A Belgian diplomat is more blunt.
How long can this go on before a
dozen US security officers are killed? he wonders, recalling the
death of 30 Belgian paratroopers in Kigali, Rwanda, in 1994.
what will the US administration’s reaction be then?
To many observers, this headlong plunge, driven by business and
military pressure, forms a dangerous mix. But others, such as
Rev. Jackson, are more confident.
Africa has a lot to offer, the
United States has a lot to offer, he predicted before a meeting
with Kenya’s now re-elected President Daniel arap Moi,
the fact that we both have a lot to offer makes us want to be good
friends and mutually-beneficial trading partners. Whether that
sentiment becomes reality depends on at least three factors: corporate
responsibility, a reduced US military presence, and a strong, clearly
defined African policy. At the moment, hopes are high, especially
since Albright’s tour and the announcement that President
Clinton plans to visit Africa this year.
During her Africa tour in December, Albright’s announcement that Clinton’s Partnership for Economic Growth and Opportunity will provide a $90 million loan to develop new oil fields in Angola was encouraging. But a subsequent statement, made during a visit to a Chevron oil drilling platform, raised eyebrows. An additional $350 million from the US Export-Import Bank, she explained, may only support the purchase of US equipment, a move suggesting that the State Department is more interested in promoting US commercial interests than African self-reliance. Compared with China’s pending $150 million no-strings-attached grant to the Congo, the US requirement raises the specter of colonial thinking.
What is needed, muses another relief worker, who prefers to be
is a clearly defined US government policy dealing with
African governments to ensure that the potpourri of American big
business, military adventurism, and interference in the internal
affairs of African countries doesn’t clash with the peasant
population’s aspirations. Or else the consequences will be far
greater than in Somalia.