Africa to be further impoverished through Uncle Sam’s new initiative

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Zafar Bangash

Safar 25, 1418 1997-07-01


by Zafar Bangash (World, Crescent International Vol. 26, No. 9, Safar, 1418)

With the Middle East now firmly in America’s grip, Uncle Sam has turned his attention to the plunder of Africa, which it calls the last frontier. Wherever the greedy uncle sets foot, trouble follows.

The US (or the west), of course does not talk about plunder. Officially the word ‘help’ is used. When people in the rest of the world hear this word, it should give cause for concern. America’s helping others is merely a euphemism for plundering their resources.

At the economic summit of G-7 (the seven great industrial powers!) in Denver, CO, from June 20-22, the US called for support of its ‘Africa Initiative’. This new US prescription will impoverish, not enrich Africa. Not only has the US launched its own initiative but it is also calling upon its European and Japanese allies to join in the plunder.

This is not a cynical view but one based on hard evidence of ‘western benevolence’ towards Africa and indeed the rest of the world. Africa’s external debt today stands at US$340 billion requiring an annual outlay of $24 billion to service it. African countries have to fork out billions more to the west each year than they receive in aid.

In 1980, Africa’s external debt was $115 billion but thanks to structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) imposed by the international monetary fund (IMF) and the world bank, it is three times as much today. And a far higher number of people in Africa are living in poverty today than they were 35 years ago.

The G-7 which comprises the US, Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Germany and Japan, consider themselves economic superpowers. The first three are also permanent members of the United Nations security council. They and especially the US wield considerable clout in the IMF and world bank as well. It was these latter bodies’ SAPs that impoverished Africa over the last three decades.

If the US is peddling its Africa Initiative today, then the Africans had better ponder its implications seriously before plunging headlong. A significant portion of the Denver agenda focused on African issues from peace-keeping to debt relief, as part of a bid to ‘strengthen international coordination to support reform and development in Africa.’ The US and France, two leading contenders for control and influence on the continent, have been keen on peace-keeping. The US floated the idea when then American secretary of State Warren Christopher visited the continent last October. In South Africa, he got the brush-off from president Nelson Mandela but the Americans have not given up.

Peace-keeping and development, like the peace process, are western buzzwords. They do not carry the standard meaning that one would ordinarily associate with them. The Palestinians have experienced the the peace process firsthand for nearly four years and their life is more miserable today than it was before this plague was visited upon them.

In the African context, peace-keeping means the west’s ability to impose whatever order it wishes in a particular country without allowing the people to resist it. Somalia, Rwanda and Congo (Zaire) have all had a taste of this. Similarly, development means the freedom for western multinationals to plunder the wealth and resources of a country. Often, the corrupt ruling elites are also given a share of the loot in order to ensure a smooth transfer of resources to the west.

Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the US has barged into Africa rearranging the political furniture. Its first major success was in Ethiopia where the Amhara Christian warlords were replaced by the Tigrayan Christian minority in 1991. Similarly, Eritrea was handed over to the Christian minority. Emboldened by these moves and having faced little resistance, Uncle Sam has been more active eversince.

As recently as May, it rearranged the political setup in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the former Zaire. The Zairean dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko had been installed by the CIA in 1965. Laurent Kabila, the marxist-turned-capitalist is the beneficiary of Uncle Sam’s latest dispensation, much like his fellow-marxist traveller, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, who too had had a conversion of convenience.

The US deputy treasury secretary Lawrence Summers visited a number of sub-Saharan countries after attending the annual meeting of the African Development Bank in Abijan on May 27-28. There he talked about the largesse the US was willing to dispense provided the assorted dictators did Uncle Sam’s bidding. Even such former hardcore marxist regimes as those in Angola and Mozambique were made to see the error of their ways and have now been converted to American-style laisezze faire capitalism. Both had been the victims of US-backed terrorist insurgencies for decades. They have still not recovered from the devastating effects of war.

Even while wars have subsided in some parts, the US, Britain and France are actively stoking the flames of hatred in other parts of Africa. Sudan is a principal example which is being targeted by US-backed mercenaries from Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia.

Ultimately, western policy towards Africa is predicated on getting access to its vast natural resources. Congo’s diamond, cobalt and copper mines are being coveted by western multinationals as much as Sudan’s vast but as yet untapped oil reserves. The first step along the way is to prize open their economies under the rubric of market reforms. For this purpose, international lending institutions like the world bank and the IMF are pressed into service.

The world bank says that 37 out of 48 sub-Saharan African countries are undertaking serious economic reforms, including liberalising trade barriers, privatising state enterprises and easing investment laws.

The US launched its initiative last April allegedly to promote trade and economic development in Africa. US imports from Africa account for less than two percent but it wants to export much more.

Many US officials see Africa as a last frontier for investors that, if economic reforms work out, could present major opportunities for American businessmen who currently shy away from the continent.

Washington’s UN ambassador Bill Richardson, who facilitated Kabila’s ascension to power in Kinshasa, candidly said during a mission to Congo last month that with its ‘vast mineral wealth and enormous human potential, Africa could become a new love interest for American business and investment.’

Indeed! He might as well have added: for unbridled American plunder as well.

Muslimedia - July 1-15, 1997

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