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From worker-brc-news@lists.tao.ca Sun Jan 28 08:34:59 2001
Date: Sat, 27 Jan 2001 14:56:55 -0500
From: William G Martin <wgmartin@binghamton.edu>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Waging War Against Africa
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Waging War Against Africa: Will Bush Follow Clinton’s Lead?

By William G. Martin <wgmartin@prairienet.org>, Association of Concerned Africa Scholars, 20 December 2000

As the moving vans circle the White House, it is only natural to speculate on what looms ahead for Africa. Among liberal and even many progressives commentators there is a growing consensus: a Bush presidency will mark a new era of antipathy towards Africa.

Thus for example the title of the essay by Salih Booker, director of The Africa Fund/American Committee on Africa and the Africa Policy Information Center: The Coming Apathy: Africa Policy Under a Bush Administration. A Bush presidency, Booker argues, portends a return to the blatantly anti- African policies of the Reagan-Bush years.1

It is of course not difficult to show that Bush has been unaware and uninterested in Africa; indeed this holds for almost the whole world beyond the borders of North America. And certainly the past actions of Bush’s travelling party—from his father to his top cabinet appointments—are marked by opposition to the release of Nelson Mandela, votes against sanctions against apartheid, support for the lack of U.S. action in Rwanda, rejection of non-conditional debt relief, etc. And of course as Bush said during the election, at some point in time the president has got to clearly define what the national strategic interests are, and while Africa may be important, it doesn’t fit into the national strategic interests.2

Yet such assessments obscure a far more dangerous policy path: Bush accelerating not simply the Reagan but Clinton legacy by casting Africa as a threat to the people of the United States, and moving to segregate and destabilize Africans at home and abroad.

Here we need to recall Clinton’s actions—and not just his rhetorical flourishes and photo-shots with complacent animals and politicans on African safaris. For Clinton’s policy was based on two pillars. The first was taken right out of Reagan’s house: an acceleration of opening the world to U.S. corporate interests under the free trade banner and structural adjustment. Hence the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act became the central policy initiative of the Clinton presidency; 400 years after the Atlantic slave trade, we were told, Africa would finally open up to the world-economy.

Bush will surely not depart from such neo-liberal positions. As he responded when asked a second time if Africa fit his definition of strategtic interests, he said of course No but then continued It fits into my definition of economic interest, and that’s why I try to promote free trade.3 Nor will he depart an inch from Clinton’s avowed stance of rejecting any US support for peace-keeping efforts, unilateral or multilateral—even if such wars are waged, as during the Clinton years, by troops trained by the Green berets.

Still, why does this not mean simply a new era of open apathy? Where is the enhanced danger for Africa?

Here we need to examine the second, often unnoticed pillar of Africa policy under Clinton—and one that was absent under previous Republican administrations. For as Clinton cabinet officers repeatedly stated, Africa was important not just for trade and investment, but because it posed a new transnational threat to the United States.

As Assistant Secretary Rice put it to the Congressional Black Caucus, We have consistently articulated two clear policy goals: integrating Africa into the global economy... and combating transnational security threats, including terrorism, crime, narcotics, weapons proliferation, environmental degradation and disease.4 Or as she asked organizers of the recent National Summit on Africa: How many of you know that 30 percent of the heroin intercepted at U.S. ports of entry in recent years was seized from African-controlled couriers? How many of you know that Americans lose over $2 Billion a year to African white- collar crime syndicates...?5 Or as Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Africa is a major battleground in the global fight against terror, crime, drugs, illicit arms-trafficking, and disease.6

This definition of Africa as a transnational security threat broke new ground. In one fell swoop Africa became the home of deadly disesases, dangerous drugs, and devilish inhabitants. And having named and categorized Africans as such, we all know what policies follow: segregate or imprison the threat, inoculate ourselves, and eliminate all contact with the contagion.

The impliations of Clinton’s policy thus fit well with Bush instincts: isolate Africa, train select military and police allies there to control drugs and migration to the U.S., rely upon friendly regional powers to contain military conflicts and police refugee camps, and do not under any circumstances allow US troops or persons to land in Africa or Africans to land in the U.S. If there is a key difference with Clinton, it is likely that Bush will be more open regarding this policy, relying upon over a century’s depiction of Africa as the most primitive, dangerous and dark place on the planet.

Focusing on AIDS, one should note, fits this pattern quite well. For as currently cast by both democrats and republicans in Washington, AIDS, like Ebola, represents a curiously deadly threat peculiar to Africa, one that needs to be contained there; the best America might do is to sell the hideously expensive fruits of U.S. drug companies to suffering Africans.

One must emphasize that this framework does not mean an apathetic dis-engagement from Africa. Aid to and migrants from Africa might end, but no one is speaking of cutting off imports of African oil, preventing exports of U.S. goods or investments to Africa, or stopping unilateral actions against unfriendly regimes as in Reagan’s bombing of Libya, George Bush’s ill-fated military expedition to Somalia, or Clinton’s cruise missile attack from afar on the Sudan.

Indeed new oil fields off Africa’s coast will surely be drilled by U.S. firms and be protected by U.S.-trained troops or private security corporations. Similarly, recent U.S. initiatives to train and secure influence over African, especially South African, police and military forces through building new US-doiminated war colleges and security police academies are likely to continue. Securing US econmic interests is thus likely to mean enhanced, low-intensity commitments in resource rich parts of the continent—not to end conflict and protect and secure African lives, but rather to protect narrow U.S. investments and interests. Thus while Africa may not have a high enough value on the national security criteria to permit the dispatch of US troops to protect lives and U.S. assets—as within or along the borders of North America or Europe—intervention via proxy forces, strong regional states, and bilateral military/securiyt relationships is likely to continue and accelerate. Indeed, should we expect otherwise now that foreign policy is largely in the hands of General Colin Powell, teamed up with ex-NSC staffer now NSC Secretary, Condoleeza Rice, and ex-Secretary of Defense, now Vice-President, Dick Cheney?

What will not continue is Clinton’s ability to speak on the one hand as a friend to Africa, and act as a agent for US business and military interests on the other. Here the Bush presidency may in its bluntness, its very clumsiness towards nations of color, provide a breath of fresh air: no longer will it be necessary to struggle to unmask hidden pillars of policy and action. Appointing a few colorful faces is unlikely, this time around, to bamboozle anyone.

In this there may well be large gains for progressives and all those rejecting the high cost of neoliberal policies under Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush. If during the Clinton years expectations of the President as a friend of black people everywhere emerged, this was matched and fed by a wave of African-centered and anti-globazaltion activity. For a while, for many, there seemed to be no contradiction between these two trends. This will not continue under a Bush presidency, as the wake-up call provided by the denial of voting rights in Florida illustrated. An unmasked policy of discrimation, disdain and racial prejudice toward Africans may open the door, in ways impossible during the Clinton years, for equally blunt, direct action against racist policies toward Africa and her peoples.


1 Online at: http://www.africapolicy.org/docs00/bush0012.htm

2 Newshour with Jim Lehrer, Feb 16, 2000.

3 Ibid.

4 Susan E. Rice, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, The Clinton-Gore Administration Record in Africa, Remarks to the Foreign Affairs Braintrust, Annual Congressional Black Caucus, Washington, DC, September 15, 2000 Online at: http://www.state.gov/www/policy_remarks/2000/000915_rice_cbc.html

5 U.S. Department of State Susan E. Rice, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs The National Summit—East Coast Regional Summit Keynote Address Baltimore, Maryland, Friday, September 10, 1999.

6 Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee On Fiscal Year 2000 Budget, February 24, 1999, Washington, D.C. As released by the Office of the Spokesman U.S. Department of State. Online at: http://www.un.int/usa/99al0224.htm#af