“An obliging fool is more dangerous than an enemy” says a Russian proverb. In Amharic we say “kemogn dejaf mofer yikoretal” or “mogn indenegerut, beklo indasegerut”. Those Ethiopians who hailed the Obama speech in Accra and rejoiced at the possibility of a new deal for Ethiopia and Africa thanks to Obama remind us of such obliging and dangerous fools.
Ours is a continent that had endured so many speeches of eloquence and style. African leaders have been mostly demagogic, we have heard it all. Nkrumah, Ben Bella, Nasser, Nyrere, Banda, Sekou Toure and more were moving speakers and yet we found out, much to our dismay, that words and realities are two different things. Well crafted words and flowery phrases do not a good policy make. Hence, it is inexcusable for Africans to be swayed by public speakers that shroud the real issues with self evident truths (“the future of Africa is up to Africans”–isn’t it precisely to affirm this that Africans have been struggling?) and cover their dearth of knowledge with paternalist “you must do this” advice and threats. At the end of the day, the Obama speech was a rehash of the old American policy towards Africa, all bones and no meat, and an expression of the continuing incapability of Washington to come to grips with the real problems of Africa. One wonders why some Africans beat the festive drums over the Obama Accra speech even though such drummers as Raila Odinga of Kenya do prove the point that “it is business as usual” for Africa’s corrupt leaders. Obama did say once that his knowledge of African realities is equal to the knowledge of those who had occupied the White House seat before him–just imagine Reagan and Bush and even the Clinton fellow who hailed Meles, Kagame, Museveni,etc.. as democrats. Not very encouraging at all. Doing the visit to the slave prisons is just a photo op that even Bush had done in Senegal and it is by now an empty symbolism from a country that has refused to pay due reparation for the slave trade.
Is Obama ending the misguided policies of Bush or extending them wrapped in demagogy? As Americans are wont to say, where is the beef? Is he showing us the money? That Obama’s father was a Kenyan is neither here nor there as Condoleezza Rice, Susan Rice and Johnnie Carson are African Americans/blacks/ and they did not hear the heartbeat Africa at all. Colour and birth considerations aside, Obama is an American, elected to safeguard the interest of America in Africa and the whole world. Obama’s vision of Africa is American and that of the ruling power holders of the big country. His refusal to acknowledge that Africa’s woes are mostly the results of neo colonial plunder and machination is at the center of his failure to understand the woes of Africa. He said accusingly that the West did not cause the economic problems of Zimbabwe and the West has little to do with wars in which children become soldiers. What? Zimbabwe’s economy was wrecked by embargoes and sabotage by the West ever since Britain raged against Mugabe for taking action against white landowners. No one n the west cried foul when Mugabe was torching Matabele land to crush an insurgency. The child soldiers of Sierra Leone for one were involved in a diamond war in which Britain and even South Africa played a major part. Who were the allies of Charles Taylor? Who financed Renamo? UNITA? And the ongoing war in the Congo? Western mining companies like British Ashanti corporation finance the militias wreaking havoc, recruiting children as soldiers and raping women in thousands. Obama harped on corruption and good governance in his attempt to attribute the blame on Africa itself but the reality shows us different. “No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20% off the top,” said Obama. Is this true? Absolutely not. The foreign companies actually want those scoundrels who can be bribed. From Lumumba to Nkrumah and more, nationalist African leaders have been victims of coups mostly engineered by the CIA and the West. Leaders that rig elections and repress voters enjoy American aid and backing. The butcher in Equatorial Guinea is sustained in power by American oil companies. President Nguema’s stolen millions were stashed in Washington’s Riggs Bank and Condoleezza Rice feted the tyrant. Western oil companies who ran after Africa’s oil have been allies of the despots be it in the Congo, Gabon, Nigeria or Angola (for a good exposure of how these giant companies practically manipulate the tyrants and the governments do read Nicholas Shaxson’s: Poisoned Wells–The Dirty Politics of African Oil ). And this affirmation by Obama that “we must support strong and sustainable democratic governments” or “no good governance no aid” is an old song crooned by Western leaders from Mitterrand to Blair to Clinton. American and western aid had actually gone to despots, to apartheid South Africa, to Egypt’s Mubarek, to Meles Zenawi, to corrupt Dos Santos in Angola, etc. Britain and France have also backed despots in their particular enclaves and as the competition from China (ruthlessly nationalist and arrogantly racist too) heats up the West is grovelling before the dictators in countries with oil and minerals. Foreign investment has thus been mainly in countries where scoundrel and thieves are in power. The issue of corruption is not also just an African internal affair as Obama wanted to imply but something that has been fanned and extended all over Africa by Western embassies and companies working intimately with African officials. Governments cannot skim 20% off the top if the Western companies were not in accord with them. Western investors hate honest and nationalist leaders (who overthrew and had Lumumba murdered? Allende? Mossadegh? Arbenz?) and are comfortable with corrupt rogues.
That is why Meles Zenawi is one of the usual guests of the G8 meetings and the very person picked by Tony Blair to head an African committee. Nigerian dictator’s solen billions ares till British and other western banks. Meles Zenawi and his corrupt wife have hidden millions in Citibank. The eight African leaders recently invited to the G8 meeting are all corrupt and seven of the eight are leading countries considered not free by Freedom House itself. Ghana may fare better now than others but it is also rife with corruption. In the UN Development Index report also Ghana is not that glorious (among the 20 poorest–142nd while Kenya is 144th). Corruption flourishes in Africa with Western collaboration. Africa is wrecked by wars in most cases financed and fanned by the West as it chases its greed for oil and minerals to the detriment of Africans ( more than 4 million have died in the mineral war of the Congo). Obama talked of the need for a strong parliament, honest police force, independent judges, independent press, a vibrant private sector, and a civil society. Fine requirements. However, if development depends on good governance and if America will not help those who have not instituted good governance then one is at odds to explain the actual and real policies of America in support of despots all over the continent. This is why Obama’s glossing over the damages of colonialism and neo colonialism grates and sprinkles salt on our wounds. Diseases and conflicts have ravaged the African continent but who is to really blame for that? Poverty is linked to the system; Ethiopia is suffering from famine not because its land is infertile. But who supports these regimes that impoverish the African people while opening up the country to the greedy western oil and mineral companies? Who is impoverishing African farmers by subsidizing its own farmers and making the African products cheap in the world market? Questions that Obama, like Bush, did not want to address at all.
There is the possibility that some hardened fools may still argue that all this was in the past and that things have changed now with Obama. Where and when? Besides repeating the usual (and mistaken) official diatribe against “genocide” in Darfur and terrorists in Somalia, has Obama really broken with the past? Let us take the Horn of Africa, a region we know much better than the American president. Somalia’s intractable clan war was complicated by Washington when it decided to arm the hated warlords against those it called terrorists linked to Al Qaeda. Like the WMD, it was said there were three or four top Al Qaeda operatives hiding in Somalia (they were never found) and the support to the venal warlords made the fanatics of the ICU appear better in the eyes of most Somalis. And then, Washington prompted Meles Zenawi to send in soldiers and actively supported the disastrous invasion which any Ethiopian would have told them was doomed to failure. The troops of Meles helped the Al Shabab gain more support, were forced to withdraw and Somalia is now in the pits with the fanatics in ascendance. And what is new American policy as concerns Somalia? Arming the so called moderates of the Transitional Government, paying Uganda and Djibouti (!!) for arms and training, fuming against terrorists, accusing Eritrea of arming the “terrorists”. More of the same. The misguided notion of considering the Somali mess as part and parcel of the so called war against terror is very flawed. Let us take Ethiopia where a ruthless dictatorship is in place. Taking Obama’s measures, it fails miserably to qualify as good governance: the parliament is rubber stamp and even the rubber is threadbare, the police force is brutal, corrupt and repressive, the judiciary is controlled by the State, civic society has been denied independent and vibrant existence, the free press is muzzled (Meles is named one of the worst predators of the free press), the private sector is stifled by the monopolistic economic firms of the ruling Tigrean front (TPLF). In 2005, the ruling front lost the general election but used violence to massacre more than 200 protestors, to jail thousands and to stay in power with the help of America and Britain. This repressive regime and its cold blooded head called Meles have remained to be the West’s darlings and Mr Obama was sitting together with this murderer in the last G8 meeting. W cannot talk of change because the new secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, who recently visited Ethiopia, praised the anti people regime as an ally and as the one that has brought democracy to Ethiopia. There is no new policy, no new deal, no firm American stand against dictators and tyrants.
So, if we judge the Obama speech in Accra from the real and bitter realities of poverty, war, AIDS, corruption and sovereignty. that is if we ask did he say something new or has he heralded any change, the answer is no. The “future of Africa is up to Africans” is an refrain we have heard before so many times from Western leaders that do not waste time to forcefully take our sovereignty away. It is empty talk. To rile against poverty, corruption, the lack of good governance without mentioning the lion’s share of the guilt and responsibility of the West is to bray at the moon and to hoodwink the victims. Talk of neo-colonial plunder, talk of oil companies robbing countries blind and backing tyrants and murderous militias, talk of subsidies that impoverish and debilitate African farmers, talk of taking real and concrete actions against tyrants and then we can listen. The West needs corrupt and repressive regimes in Africa for it to rob best the continent. President Obama should say no to this addiction, to this greed and craving of a junkie. Up to now, he has not done so. He is continuing the Bush policy incensing it with confusing speeches. Those Africans who imagine that “the end of tyranny is now” and that “with Obama in charge our sufferings will end” only prove the truth in the saying that a fool will laugh when he is drowning.