||Would Barack Obama’s re-election advance African democracy and prosperity? Evidence suggests not, but the alternative in the November 6 election would be worse.
His most important important policy speech on Africa, in Ghana in 2009, contained the famous line, “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” According to the Daily Maverick, Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Johnnie Carson, last month claimed, “The US wants to work with African nations to strengthen democratic institutions, good governance and efforts to stamp out corruption [and] to spur economic growth through market-driven, free trade principles.”
Haha, Washington’s deregulatory support for Wall Street’s market-driven binge and purge in 2008-09 contributed to the worst global economic crash in 80 years, resulting in around a million South African job losses. Official data reveal that in the US, the top 1 percent snagged 93 percent of all new income since 2009.
“Free trade principles”? Who can forget White House support for the vast ongoing agro-corporate subsidies which thwart African production? And as for corruption, is there any capital city whose political system is more conclusively bought by corporate campaign contributions than Washington, resulting in such extreme malgovernance that Obama cannot even make an effort to convict a single banker for world-historic economic misdeeds?
Carson also assumes that through increased vulnerability to the chaotic world economy, “Africa” grows. Although a few elites certainly grow rich from extraction, a World Bank book, The Changing Wealth of Nations (2011), concedes that by adjusting Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for “natural capital” depletion, instead of growing rapidly (as often claimed by naive commentators), Africa is shrinking even faster: in 2008, negative 6 percent of GDP.
Maintaining this degree of Resource Curse requires tyrants to keep the masses in their place for the sake of multinational corporate beneficiaries. Thanks often to White House patronage, murderous African dictators retain power until too late, most obviously Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, personally worth at least $40 billion, and recipient of many billions of dollars in US military aid in the 18 months following Obama’s Ghana lofty speech.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the Mubaraks “friends of my family” and a few days before the corrupt tyrant was overthrown, she proclaimed, “Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable.” Egypt was amongst the Central Intelligence Agency’s dozen African countries used secretly for “rendition”, the illegal transfer of suspected terrorists to countries carrying out torture or holding Washington’s prisoners.
In the same spirit, as the Arab Spring moved east from Tunisia, Obama backed the Djibouti regime of Ismail Omar Guelleh against pro-democracy protesters, apparently because of the tiny dictatorship’s hosting of US African Command (AfriCom) troops at Washington’s only solely-owned base on the continent.
These troops are increasingly active, yet the US Air University’s Strategic Studies Quarterly carried a 2010 article by Major Shawn T. Cochran citing one of Washington’s military advisors to the African Union: “We don’t want to see our guys going in and getting whacked… We want Africans to go in.” (Mali is next, probably in coming days: blowback from last year’s Libya intervention.)
Washington’s lead proxy army in that region is Ethiopia’s, prompting Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International leaders to recently complain, “The US, the World Bank, and other states and institutions have shown little or no attention to Ethiopia’s worsening human rights record.”
Obama’s support for Rwandan strongman Paul Kagame includes $800 million a year in aid and in June 2012, protection against possible UN censure for genocide in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And Uganda got $45 million and four drones in spite of Yoweri Museveni’s dictatorial rule.
Also last year, citing US national security interests, Obama issued a waiver for more than $200 million in military aid to allied regimes in Somalia, the DRC, Libya, South Sudan and Yemen in spite of a 2008 US law prohibiting such funding because of their armies’ recruitment of child soldiers.
This hypocrisy is better understood thanks to WikiLeaks, which two years ago published more than 250 000 US State Department cables, showing that Washington’s embassies in Africa collect fingerprints, DNA, iris scans, email passwords, credit card account numbers, work schedules and even frequent flyer numbers of local political, military, business and religious leaders.
WikiLeaks also revealed that during a February 2010 meeting with the late Ethiopian dictator Meles Zenawi, “Carson encouraged Meles to hasten steps to liberalize the telecommunications and banking industries in Ethiopia.” Caron’s additional objective, agreed by Meles, was replacing the Kyoto Protocol’s binding cap on greenhouse gas emissions with the non-binding Copenhagen Accord, even if refusal to address climate change will result in the preventable death of 185 million Africans this century, according to Christian Aid.
No doubt Obama’s administration is a rotten fusion of the worst forces within both neoliberalism and neoconservatism. But I sincerely hope that next month, he soundly defeats Mitt Romney, who is worse on all counts – except the ability to confuse people in Africa who might still think Washington acts in their interests.
Patrick Bond directs the UKZN Centre for Civil Society