The Expanding United States Economic and Military Role in Africa
Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, standing next to the marker recognizing the role of African troops in liberating Richmond at the conclusion of the Civil War. (Photo: Ana Edwards)
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, standing next to the marker recognizing the role of African troops in liberating Richmond at the conclusion of the Civil War. (Photo: Ana Edwards)
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
Demand for strategic minerals and political dominance still guide foreign policy
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Note: The following speech was delivered as an address to the annual Defenders Fighting Fund & Community Awards Dinner in Richmond, Virginia on April 24, 2010. The event was held at the Asbury United Methodist Church. This event was sponsored by the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality based in Richmond.
In order to fully understand the political and economic interests that influence and determine the foreign policy of the United States towards the African continent we have to first examine the history of the country. Two factors are of utmost significance and they are the removal of the Native peoples from their traditional lands in North America and the importation, exploitation and oppression of millions of Africans who were enslaved for nearly 250 years.
These issues related to the unresolved race or national questions in the United States are often exemplified in the political and intellectual arenas of the public discourse. The most obvious example is the recent proclamation issued by Virginia’s Governor Robert McDonnell that recognized the confederate heritage of the state and initially did not mention the enslavement of many Africans between the 17th and 19th centuries.
Although this edict was somewhat altered, the damage had already been done. In response to the proclamation, various talk and news programs in the corporate media illustrated the widespread distortions and misinformation about the history of the United States that exist either deliberating or through lack of knowledge.
Various historians in the United States after the civil war sought to both downplay the economic significance of slavery to both the South and the North of the country and to deny the systematic cruel exploitative and oppressive character of the entire institution. Some whites would go as far as to say that slavery in the South was superior to the conditions under which Africans lived in the northern states where the system of human bondage had been legally abolished.
On April 11, an opinion editorial was published in the New York Times, the American newspaper of record it is often said. This editorial written by Jon Meacham, entitled “Southern Discomfort”, who is the editor of Newsweek and a Pulitzer Prize winner, stated that “If neo-Confederates are interested in history, let’s talk history.” (New York Times, April 11)
The opinion piece went on to say that “Since Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Confederate symbols have tended to be more about white resistance to black advances than about commemoration. In the 1880s and 1890s, after fighting Reconstruction with terrorism and after the Supreme Court struck down the 1875 Civil Rights Act, states began to legalize segregation.”
Meacham goes on to point out that “For white supremacists, iconography of the “Lost Cause” was central to their fight; Mississippi even grafted the Confederate battle emblem onto its state flag. But after the Supreme Court allowed segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, Jim Crow was basically secure. There was less need to rally the troops, and Confederate imagery became associated with the most extreme of the extreme: Ku Klux Klan.”
This editorial in the New York Times prompted a response from Edward H. Sebesta of Dallas, TX who wrote to the Pan-African News Wire saying that the above-mentioned opinion piece “actually has a sly defense of the Confederate “heritage.” After citing the just-mentioned quote related to the role of confederate symbols subsequent to the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court ruling of 1896, Meacham then launches an attack on the Times editorial saying that it contributes more to the confusion surrounding the history of the United States than clarifying not only the role of slavery but also the political character of the neo-confederate movement today.
Meacham says that the Times' opinion editorial misrepresented history when it implied that there was a benign character to the post-confederate ideologists between the late 1890s and the conclusion of World War II. Meachan challenges this saying that “This paragraph is a total falsehood.”
Meacham, who is a co-author of “Neo-Confederacy: A Critical Introduction”, along with Euan Hague and Heidi Beirich, continues by pointing out that “The Confederate groups promoted white supremacy in the “Confederate Veteran,” the official publication of the United Confederate Veterans, Sons of Confederate Veterans, United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the Confederate Southern Memorial Association. Not only did they promote white supremacy, they also praised the Ku Klux Klan of Reconstruction, and allowed the early 20th century KKK to march in one of their annual reunion parades.”
The author continues saying “Confederate imagery was used to promote white supremacy throughout the Nadir. Confederate “heritage” has always been about white supremacy from the end of the Civil War into the 21st century.
U.S. Origins of Slavery in Virginia
Under British colonialism in Virginia, slavery was introduced to the colony in August 1619 when some 20 Africans were brought to Jamestown. This single historical incident was by no means isolated. It represented the continuation of a process that had been underway for nearly two centuries when Spain and Portugal began to sends ships to Africa seeking goods, trade routes and cheap labor.
Colonies had already been established during the 16th century in the Caribbean and Latin America. Spain controlled sections of the southern United States prior to the British intervention and there was tremendous competition between the various European powers for control of the western territories and the trade in agricultural commodities and slaves.
A study entitled “The Negro in Virginia”, that was published by the Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Virginia in 1938, sheds light on the history of the servant-to-slave system in the state. This study came into fruition when in 1936, an African-American section of the Federal Writers’ Project was established in Virginia. The purpose of the project was to both put educated African-Americans on relief to work and to make a significant contribution to the historical literature on their history inside the state.
In the first chapter of “The Negro in Virginia” entitled “Arrival”, the authors stress that “About no other event of equal importance in American history has there been so little known as so much conjectured. Records show that the Treasurer, an English vessel, sailed from Virginia in the summer of 1618 ‘under pretense of getting salt and goats for the colony.’ It was manned, however, by ‘the ablest men of the colony’ and was loaded with ‘powder, shott, wast clothes, ordynaunce streamers, flagges and other furniture fit for the man of warr.’ (The Negro in Virginia, p. 1)
“Somewhere off the coast the Treasurer joined forces with a Dutch vessel, and whether by design or by chance, the consort ships came upon and captured a Spanish frigate loaded with Africans destined for the Spanish West Indies. Finding no gold or silver, the captors dumped the plunder of ebony into their own hatches. Adverse winds overtook them on their way to Virginia, and violent storms caused them to lose one another."
The study continues saying that “When provisions ran out, a number of the Negroes died. Finally, in the latter part of August, after several weeks at sea, the Dutch man-of-war came to Jamestown with twenty of the hundred or so Africans. “
It was not until some three decades later that the trade in Africans accelerated. The authors of “The Negro in Virginia” said that “That only a few Negroes were imported in the first thirty years was not due to the reluctance of Virginia planters to receive them. The system of white indentureship was firmly established, and Virginia planters had to take those workers the Virginia Company supplied. Beside, the supply of ‘black ivory’ was limited, since the Dutch, who enjoyed a virtual monopoly in slave-trading, found the thriving Spanish Colonies of the West Indies a more lucrative market.” (The Negro in Virginia, p. 4)
However, by 1661 slavery had become the preferred industry for the British. After the Restoration of the Crown, a strict enforcement of the Navigation Acts contributed to this transition to slavery. All ships that transported Virginia goods overseas had to pass through English-controlled ports requiring the payment of taxes. The cost of dealing in European indentured servants far exceeded the trafficking in African slaves.
The authors of “The Negro in Virginia” note that “English shippers soon saw where the greater profit lay. The collecting of prisoners from Newgate and of waifs and women from the streets of London and other cities returned but small interest on the investment. Hordes of natives were in Africa for the taking. The Company of Royal Adventurers merged with the Royal African Company; and, with the blessing of the Crown, influence was used to stifle the traffic in white servants in favor of that in black.” (The Negro in Virginia, p. 5)
During the period of the 18th century after the so-called “Revolutionary War”, the movement westward was encouraged by the new government by giving the Indian’s land to white settlers to establish farms and other commercial enterprises. Consequently slavery grew rapidly and the displacement of the Native peoples from their lands accelerated.
Yet the advent of slavery and the enormous profits that it generated met tremendous resistance from the African people. Two of the most well-known examples of African resistance to slavery were the planned revolt of Gabriel in 1800 and the rebellion led by Nat Turner in South Hampton County in 1831.
Outside the United States there was also the Haitian Revolution which started with a general rebellion in August 1791 and extended through a war until 1804 when the country was proclaimed a Black Republic. The defeat of the French military in Haiti prompted the Louisiana Purchase which extended the territorial boundaries of the United States.
Between 1804 and 1862, the United States had refused to recognize the independent African government in Haiti. Haiti played a significant role in fostering the independence movements in South America when it provided refuge and assistance to Simon Bolivar in 1815-16. Haiti also played a pivotal role in ending slavery in neighboring Dominican Republic through a military occupation in the 1820s.
It would take a series of slave revolts, the armed actions of John Brown in both Kansas and in Virginia at Harper’s Ferry, to raise the level of tensions between the slave states and Washington that would spark the civil war between 1861-65. A number of historians have written about the increasingly un-viability and un-profitability of slavery as an economic system that contributed to the desperate attempts by the confederates to secede from the United States.
Even taking into consideration the economic crisis within the slave system beginning in the 1850s, the trafficking in Africans and the super-exploitation of their labor provided the profits that fueled the industrial growth in both England and the United States. Scholars W.E.B. DuBois and Eric Williams both examined the relationship between the profitability of slavery and the rise of industrial capitalism in the U.S. and England respectively.
With specific reference to the role of slavery in the economic growth of the United States, W.E.B. DuBois in his book entitled “Black Reconstruction In America: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880”, he says that “The giant forces of water and of steam were harnessed to do the world’s work, and the black workers of America bent at the bottom of a growing pyramid of commerce and industry; and they not only could not be spared, if this new economic organization was to expand, but rather they became the cause of new political demands and alignments, of new dreams of power and visions of empire.”
DuBois underlines this point by stating “First of all, their work called for widening stretches of new, rich, black soil—in Florida, in Louisiana, in Mexico; even in Kansas. This land, added to cheap labor, and labor easily regulated and distributed, made profits so high that a whole system of culture arose in the South, with a new leisure and social philosophy. Black labor became the foundation stone not only of the Southern social structure, but of Northern manufacture and commerce, of the English factory system, of European commerce, of buying and selling on a world-wide scale; new cities were built on the results of black labor, and a new labor problem, involving all white labor, arose both in Europe and America.” (Black Reconstruction, p. 5)
DuBois then discusses the socioeconomic plight of Africans in the United States by stressing that “It became easy to say and easier to prove that these black men (and women) were not men in the sense that white men were, and could never be, in the same sense, free. There slavery was a matter of both race and social condition, but the condition was limited and determined by race.” (Black Reconstruction, p. 5)
As was stated in the Richmond, Virginia Examiner in 1854 “Let us not bother our brains about what Providence intends to do with our Negroes in the distant future, but glory in the profit to the utmost by what He has done for them in transplanting them here, and setting them to work on our plantations…. True philanthropy to the Negro, begins, like charity, at home; and if Southern men would act as if the canopy of heaven were inscribed with a covenant, in letters of fire, that the Negro is here, and here forever; is our property and our's forever;…they would accomplish more good for the race in five years than they boast the institution itself to have accomplished in two centuries….” (Black Reconstruction, p. 5)
Colonialism, Nationalism & the U.S. Role
Over four centuries of the Atlantic Slave Trade so weakened Africa that the colonization of the continent during the latter decades of the 19th century became inevitable. In the Portuguese controlled areas of the continent in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, the Europeans had long been a permanent presence in these territories. In South Africa, the European settlers from the Netherlands had begun to migrant to this area after 1652. In Algeria the French took control after 1830 and established a vicious and highly exploitative system in this North African territory.
In Congo the people had traded and established diplomatic ties with the Portuguese going back to the 16th century. However, in 1876, the Belgium King Leopold I took control of key sections of the Congo and administered the area as the private property of the monarchy. The King hired Henry Morton Stanley to enter the area as an explorer that would make contact and negotiate treaties with traditional leaders on behalf of the colonialists.
According to African historian Joseph E. Harris: “This chain of events, set in motion by King Leopold’s efforts to carve out an empire in the Congo, represented a culmination of years of efforts by missionaries, explorers, merchants, and others to map out and assess various areas in Africa.
“Indeed, the Congo events dramatized and climaxed the conflicting interests of Portugal, France, and Britain, and led to the convening of the Berlin Conference in 1884-85. At the conference, the powers agreed that the traders and missionaries of all countries should have free access to the African interior that the slave trade should be abolished and that European morality should be brought to Africans.
“It was also agreed that the Congo and Niger rivers should be open to all nationals. But more important than that was the stipulation that no new European colonies would be recognized unless they were effectively occupied, which meant that European officials had to established visible and effective power in the areas claimed.” (Harris, Africans and Their History, 1972)
By the time of the Berlin Conference of 1884-85, Europeans had already made significant investments in Africa and were extracting large amounts of wealth in the form of mineral and agricultural resources. During the 1880s in the southern region of Africa, the British began to engage in large-scale mining operations in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and South Africa.
At the same time in the west of the continent, the British, French, Spanish and Germans engaged in the colonization process reaping tremendous profits from the exploitation of African labor and resources. For example, in the Gold Coast, which later became known as Ghana, the British developed the cocoa, timber and gold industries which fostered the expansion of the railway system and shipping.
These efforts by the European colonialists did not go without resistance on the part of the African masses. During the 19th century a series of anti-colonial wars were fought in various parts of the continent.
In South Africa the peoples of the Cape region fought a series of battles against both the Boers and the British resulting in the deaths of thousands of people, livestock and the dislocation of millions. In Zimbabwe, which was named Rhodesia by the British imperialists after the dreaded Cecil Rhodes, the Mashona people launched a revolt against European control in 1896-97.
The Ashanti people also waged protracted struggles against the British intervention in this region that was named the Gold Coast. In Guinea, the people fought the onslaught of French colonialism for many years. The same was true of Sudan where British soldiers took serious casualties in conflicts during the late 19th century.
During this same period there was also the rise of nationalist movements that sought to petition and protest against the encroachment of European imperialism. Also in the Gold Coast the Fanti Confederation was one of the earliest anti-colonial movements that objected to the exploitation of their land and labor by British imperialism.
Atrocities committed by the Belgians in Congo, the British in southern Africa and East Africa as well as the French, Germans, Spanish and Italians in other regions of the continent, had a tremendous impact on Africans living in the western hemisphere. The descendants of Africans who were enslaved in the North America, the Caribbean and Latin America, began to hold meetings on how they could have an impact on alleviating the problems of European intervention in their ancestral home. These Africans saw a direct connection between the colonialism, national oppression, racism and race terror inflicted on people in the West and the conditions under which people were living in the homeland.
As a result in 1893 the first noted Pan-African Conference was held in Chicago. This meeting, which lasted for an entire week, is now recognized as a turning point in the struggle of Africans to build an international movement against colonialism and imperialism and for national independence and continental unity.
The 1893 Chicago Congress on Africa predated by seven years the first formal international Pan-African conference that was held in London in 1900 under the direction of Trinidadian-born Henry Sylvester Williams. This Congress was attended by such activists as Bishop Henry McNeal Turner of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) and Bishop Alexander Walters of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ).
Although notables such as Edward Wilmont Blyden of Liberia and Booker T. Washington had promised papers but did not attend, a broad range of topic were discussed including “The African in America”, “Liberia as a Factor in the Progress of the Negro Race”, and a very challenging presentation entitled “What Do American Negroes Owe to Their Kin Beyond the Sea”.”
Henry McNeal Turner utilized the Chicago Congress to advance the notion of repatriation as a mechanism for building self-determination among Africans in the West and on the continent. He had warned the African-American people some months before that France had demonstrated territorial designs on the nation of Liberia.
This conference in 1893 pave the way for the Pan-African conference held in Atlanta, Georgia some two years later in 1895 that was sponsored by the Steward Missionary Foundation for Africa of Gammon Theological Seminary.
The 1895 meeting was attended by people such as John Henry Smyth, who served as a minister resident and consul general to Liberia. In his paper presented to the Atlanta gathering he stated that “European contact has brought in its train not merely the sacrifice, amid unspeakable horrors, of the lives and liberties of twenty million Negroes for the American market alone, but political disintegration, social anarchy, moral and physical debasements.”
Some two years later the African Association was formed in England on September 24, 1897. This organization was spearheaded by Henry Sylvester Williams, a lawyer from Trinidad, who would later play an instrumental role in organizing a Pan-African Conference in London in July of 1900. This gathering is often considered as the turning point in the world-wide struggle for African unity and liberation that characterized the 20th century.
During the period of the first decade of the 20th century, there were a number of efforts to form race organizations in the United States and other parts of the Diaspora. In 1905, the Niagara Movement was formed on the United States and Canadian borders.
After the initial meetings of the Movement, the participants merged with other forces to form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. Ida B. Wells-Barnett had been a fighter for the cause of anti-segregation and anti-lynching since the mid-1880s. Her role as an organizer and propagandist in the United States and the United Kingdom can never be minimized.
Wells-Barnett worked on exposing the hypocrisy of southern violence against African people, illustrating that the charges of sexual criminality against African-American men were merely a cover to rationalize the brutal terror of the post-reconstruction system of institutionalized racism in the United States.
During the first two decades of the 20th century, there were several pogroms launched against African-Americans throughout the country. In 1904, two men who had been accused in the murder of a white family in Statesboro, Georgia, were drug from a courtroom and burnt alive by a racist white mob.
Two years later in September of 1906, a major disturbance occurred in Atlanta, Georgia over press reports alleging that several white women had been violated by African-American men in the city. In response to these false reports in the white press, mobs of white men went on a rampage attacking African-Americans at random in the city of Atlanta.
By August 1908, these acts of mob violence had spread North, when in Springfield, Illinois, two African-Americans were lynched in a racial disturbance that also left four whites dead as well. After the beginning of World War I, the United States witnessed the revitalization of the Ku Klux Klan, which was partly inspired by the racist pro-confederate film, “The Birth of a Nation.”
Race riots occurred in 1917 after the American intervention in World War I, with East St. Louis, Illinois being the focal point of this new upsurge in race terror against African-American people.
DuBois wrote an essay in 1915 entitled “The African Roots of War” which outlined the renewed attitude of resistance among the oppressed peoples of the world. In this article published in the Atlantic Monthly, DuBois states that “The Colored Peoples will not always submit passively to foreign domination. To some this is a lightly tossed truism. When a people observe liberty, they fight for it and get it…Colored People are familiar with this complacent judgement. They endure the contemptuous treatment meted out by whites to those not ‘strong’ enough to be free. These nations and races composing as they do a vast majority of humanity, are going to endure this treatment just as long as they must and not a moment longer.”
With the conclusion of World War I, the conditions were ripe for a major thrust towards Pan-Africanism on a global scale. DuBois set out to reconvene the Pan-African Congress in Paris, paralleling the peace conference that was occurring in France.
With the presence of hundreds of thousands of Africans in the colonial armies who fought alongside the French and the Americans during the War, the consciousness and determination of these communities were heightened in regard to the desire for the abolition of colonialism and racism. When the Congress was held in February of 1919, it enjoyed the participation of fifty-seven delegates from throughout the African world.
At this gathering some fifteen territories were represented including Abyssinia, Haiti, the United States, the French-controlled Caribbean, the British-controlled colonies of West Africa, Egypt, the Congo, the Dominican Republic and Liberia. There were also representatives who attended from the European colonial powers as well as the United States, which was represented by William E. Walling and Charles Edward Russell.
By 1921 DuBois had set out to convene another Pan-African Congress in London, Brussels and Paris that was more representative of the African world as a whole. After corresponding with peoples of African descent in various parts of the world, a series of meetings were held in England, Belgium and France during August and September of 1921.
At these meeting there were 113 delegates in attendance, with forty-one coming from Africa, thirty-five from the United States, twenty-four who were living in Europe and seven others representing the Caribbean.
At the 1921 gathering the question of Belgian colonial rule in Congo became a major area of concern for the authorities in Brussels. The atrocities committed by the European colonialists in Congo had been criticized and condemned by E.D. Morel, who helped expose the mass enslavement and extermination carried out by Monarch Leopold during the late 19th and 20th centuries.
Although the Belgian government protested the resolutions attacking its record in Congo, the Congress would not back away from the principles of acknowledging the full humanity of African peoples based on the findings of science, law and politics during this period. Despite the relative weakness of the 1921 Pan-African Congress, for the colonial powers of Europe, there was a concern that these meetings could influence the political mood among the masses within the imperialist outposts on the continent.
After the Congress in 1919, there was the formation of the Congress of British West Africa (CBWA), which brought together representatives of various indigenous organizations in the region. In addition, the rising influence of Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which had established chapters in several British colonies in the Caribbean and Africa, was a cause for alarm among the post World War I imperialist powers.
In the U.S. in 1919 there were race riots provoked by whites in Knoxville, Tennessee, Elaine, Arkansas, Washington, D.C. and Omaha, Nebraska. The most violent of the disturbances occurred in late July in Chicago after the drowning of a young African-American male in Lake Michigan by a mob of racist whites.
The next thirteen days were filled with wholesale attacks on the African-American community which resulted in the deaths of twenty-three Blacks and fifteen whites. In addition, it was officially reported that over 500 persons were injured during the race riots and approximately 1000 people, mainly African-Americans, were rendered homeless after their residencies were destroyed by racist gangs.
According to historians of African-American history Logan and Cohen, these attack by white mobs against the African-American community in 1919 illustrated a new level of consciousness and militancy in the response of the African population to race terror: “Like earlier race riots, the blood-baths of 1919 were the product of a basic weakness in American life—the nation’s failure to provide equality for all its citizens.
“But in at least one respect they differed from the anti-Negro outbreaks of earlier times. They were brought to an end largely by the determination of Negroes to fight back, to die for their rights as free men. Negroes were no longer willing to submit to their oppressors. Migration had fostered both self-respect and unity, while the war had given Negroes a deeper understanding of freedom. Negroes had fought and died to make the world safe for democracy; they were now fighting and dying to make America safe for freedom.”
The rise of the UNIA, the Fourth Pan-African Congress of 1927, the so-called Harlem Renaissance and the economic crisis of 1929 leading to the Great Depression, all had a profound impact on the consciousness of African people in the United States and around the world. The crisis in capitalism worldwide inevitably resulted in the rise of fascism in Europe.
The advent of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, the Spanish civil war of the late 1930s and the devastation of World War II severely disrupted European economies and governments. The United States emerged as the dominate capitalist power in the world. The Soviet Union that grew out of the Russian Revolution of 1917, represented the only world power in a position to effectively challenge U.S., British and France imperialism during the late 1940s and leading into the 1950s cold war era.
African Independence and Pan-African Struggles Worldwide
This year represents the 50th anniversary of the what is known as “The Year of Africa.” In 1960, 17 former colonial territories gained national independence on the continent. The liberation struggle had gained momentum since the independence of Libya in 1951 and the Free Officers’ Movement coup in Egypt in 1952.
In 1956, Sudan gained its independence to be followed by Ghana in 1957. Kwame Nkrumah, who was the founder and leader of the Convention People’s Party that led the Gold Coast to freedom, stated at the March 6 independence rally that the liberation of Ghana was meaningless if it was not linked to the total independence of Africa.
Later in 1958, Guinea-Conakry opted out of the French neo-colonial scheme for its territories in West Africa. The nations of Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Egypt, Algeria and Tanzania became the states which took a militant stance against the colonialists during the early 1960s.
In 1960-61, when the newly-independent Congo government under the leadership of Patrice Lumumba was overthrown in an imperialist-engineered coup which resulted in the assassination of Lumumba, the Congo became a base of operation for the Western countries bent on stifling Africa’s development. Congo would remain under the influence of the United States until 1997 when the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko was routed by an alliance of democratic forces.
There is no uniform pattern to the independence struggles in Africa. In Ghana there were rebellions and many lost their lives in the course of the movement against British rule, but the emphasis was on mass struggles including strikes, boycotts, political propaganda distribution and electoral campaigns.
The situation in Ghana was different than what prevailed in Algeria where an entrenched settler colonial class backed by the French military held out for seven years against the armed struggle of the National Liberation Front (FLN). There would be other colonial territories where people were forced to take up weapons in order to win their liberation such as Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Namibia, Zanzibar, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Eritrea and the Western Sahara (which is still not independent).
In 1963, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was formed which brought together over 30 independent nation-states on the continent. The OAU established a liberation committee which assisted with the channeling of aid to various independence movements operating against colonialism.
Nonetheless, the phenomena of neo-colonialism became the dominant imperialist force in Africa. Kwame Nkrumah wrote on this going back to the 1960s when he published a book entitled “Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism," where he documented the role of the United States in the continuing exploitation of Africa.
Nkrumah stated that “The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.” (Revolutionary Path, p. 314)
The independent states of Africa underwent numerous coups during the period between the 1960s and 1980s. Over and above the assassination of Lumumba in 1961, the revolutionary government of Nkrumah was overthrown with the direct assistance of the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department in 1966.
A consistent policy carried out by successive U.S. administrations to support colonial states in their efforts to maintain control over the African people unfolded between the 1960s up until today. During the period of the liberation struggles in Southern Africa, the U.S. was always been on the side of the colonialists and white minority regimes that committed atrocities against the African people.
This U.S. policy has maintained a strong economic thrust with the specific targeting of progressive and revolutionary African states for regime-change designed to keep these countries in perpetual debt and political servitude to the imperialist states. The role of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Agency for International Development, all of whom are U.S.-based, have been critical in continuing the underdevelopment process.
Despite these efforts by the United States and other imperialist states to continue their exploitation and oppression of African states, the peoples of the continent have been successful on numerous occasions in fighting as well as staving off Western efforts to stifle their independence. In fact the consciousness of the African masses has grown considerably since the time of early national independence with specific reference to the dominate role of the United States in influencing and determining Africa’s priorities.
Some Examples of U.S. Interference in African Affairs
Here are some specific cases where the United States in partnership with other imperialist countries have attempted to undermine African sovereignty as well as policies to build societies that place a strong emphasis on improving the conditions of the people:
Somalia: A Focal Point of U.S. Intervention
In Somalia the United States has been intricately involved in its internal affairs since the late 1970s. Under the Carter administration the regime of Mohamed Siad Barre was encouraged to attack neighboring Ethiopia which had developed close ties with the Soviet Union and Cuba in the aftermath of the revolution of 1974. In 1977-78, the Somalia government launched an invasion into the Ogaden region of Ethiopia at the aegis of the U.S.
This invasion, which was designed to destabilize the socialist-oriented government at the time in Ethiopia, faced defeat at the hands of the Ethiopian military assisted by Cuban internationalist fighters. In the aftermath of 1978, Somalia became more impoverished and most of the aid given to the country by the U.S. was in the form of military arms.
In 1991, the government of Siad Barre collapsed under widespread opposition and the failure of the U.S. to provide adequate support in the wake of the impending collapse of the Soviet Union and its ally in the Horn of Africa at the time, Ethiopia. Then following in 1992, the Bush administration invaded Somalia under the guise of providing humanitarian assistance.
Over the next several months it became clear that the U.S. mission in Somalia was by no means humanitarian. The Clinton administration of 1993 had inherited a military situation where urban guerrillas were waging a campaign to force the U.S. out of Somalia. The Clinton administration and the United Nations pulled out their forces in 1994.
Nonetheless, since 2001, the U.S. administration of George W. Bush has labeled Somalia as a base for so-called terrorists groups. The government in Somalia has not had an internationally recognized government since 1991 and two other states, Puntland and Somaliland, have been proclaimed over the last few years. Neither of these breakaways states have gained international recognition from the United Nations or the African Union (AU).
Even though the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) that is in power now in Somalia is supported by the U.S., most states in the region and around the world are forced to question its legitimacy and the degree to which it has control over the internal situation inside the country.
In 2006, the U.S. under Bush encouraged some groups inside Somalia to fight against the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) which was bringing some semblance of stability to the country after years of civil war and outside imperialist intervention. When this strategy of fomenting civil war did not work, the U.S. backed Ethiopia to invade the country in order to displace the Islamic Courts Union and uphold the TFG.
This policy also failed when elements within the UIC fought back against the U.S.-supported occupation of Somalia. Despite denials by both the Ethiopian government of Meles Zenawi and the Bush administration that the U.S. military was directing the intervention, the Pentagon bombed areas within Somalia on several occasions under the auspices of the so-called “war on terrorism.”
When the Ethiopians withdrew from the country in January 2009 in defeat, the U.S. stepped-up its assistance to the TFG and the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) which consists of troops from the Washington-friendly regimes of Uganda and Burundi. The two main Islamic resistance movements, Hizbul Islam and Al-Shabaab, are still fighting against the TFG.
In March reports indicated that the U.S. military was prepared to bomb areas of Somalia where there were strong bases of the Islamic groups fighting the TFG. The situation in Somalia can only be resolved with the participation of all the major political players, including the resistance forces, coming to an agreement.
Sudan: Oil and the Darfur Conflict
A considerable amount of attention was given to the nation of Sudan in recent years due to the fighting taking place in the western Darfur region. In analyzing this conflict, most corporate media outlets ignore the sovereignty of the Sudanese government and its right to establish its authority over all parts of the country.
Like in other geo-political regions of the world, the oil industry plays a key role in determining the foreign policy of the United States. Sudan is one of the emerging oil-producing states in Africa with over 500,000 barrels per day being produced. As a result of previous political disagreements and the bombing of the country under the Clinton administration in 1998, the U.S. oil giants are not able to exploit these abundant petroleum resources.
80 percent of the oil concessions granted by the Sudanese government are held by the firms operating out of the People’s Republic of China. At the root of the disagreement between Washington and Khartoum is the access and control over these oil fields.
Since the first Gulf War in 1991, where Sudan refused to support U.S. military intervention in that region, successive administrations have been on a collision course with President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Indictments have been issued by the International Criminal Court in The Hague against the president and other leading governmental officials in Sudan.
These indictments against a sitting African head of state have been condemned by both the African Union and the Arab League as being detrimental to the resolution of the conflict in Darfur and the peace agreement signed with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement based in South which waged a twenty year battle against the central government in Khartoum.
A recently held election in Sudan illustrated the different views held about the country among both the western imperialist states and the African Union and the Arab League. The AU, the Arab League and the Russian government observers concluded that the election results were fair and representative of the popular will of the Sudanese people. Whereas the U.S. and other opposition forces questioned the results and the legitimacy of the victory won by the ruling National Congress Party headed by President Al-Bashir.
Under the Obama administration a special envoy has been appointed and there are some efforts underway to improve relations, however, the same general policy orientation is prevailing and that is to oppose any African state that pursues an independent line divergent from the foreign policy imperatives of the United States.
Zimbabwe: The Land Struggle and the Impact of Sanctions
Another country in Southern Africa, Zimbabwe, has come under fire as well by both the United States and Britain over the last decade. It was in 2000 that revolutionary war veterans and supports of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) marched on to white-controlled farms and seized the land.
This land question was the most pressing unresolved post-independence issue in Zimbabwe, which won its national liberation thirty years ago this month. Since the land reform process, the country has been subjected to harsh economic sanctions, destabilization attempts through an imperialist-financed opposition movement as well as a concerted propaganda campaign designed to undermine the legitimacy of the Zimbabwean state headed by President Robert Mugabe.
Other states in the Southern African region were pressured by the U.S. and Britain to cut ties with Zimbabwe and to reinforce the western-imposed sanctions. However, all of these efforts failed over a ten year period. The ZANU-PF government reached a Global Political Agreement with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change factions and formed a ruling coalition in 2009. This represented a major blow to the imperialist program aimed at removing President Mugabe from office and installing neo-colonialist regime in Zimbabwe.
Nonetheless, the sanctions against Zimbabwe by the U.S., U.K. and the EU remain intact. This illustrates that the West wants to determine the future of not only Zimbabwe but South Africa and the other countries in the region who would not go along with the regime change policies of the imperialist states.
Mali, Ghana & Gabon: AFRICOM and the War Games
During 2009, war games by the United States military were carried out in West Africa. These games are part and parcel of the escalating military role of the U.S. in Africa. In 2008, the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) was formed and numerous attempts to place its headquarters on the continent has failed. The AFRICOM headquarters is still located in Stuttgart, Germany.
In Mali, the U.S. is using an ongoing conflict between the Tuareg people of Mali and Niger with their central governments as an excuse to maintain military and political influence in the region. There are also military operations and training programs taking place in Ghana, which was largely behind the 2009 visit of President Barack Obama to that country.
Ghana has been a test case for the United States since the overthrow of Nkrumah in 1966. During the mid-1980s, the country was the first to adopt the dreaded Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP) engineered by the IMF and World Bank. These SAP reduced the size of governments and educational institutions as well as jeopardized the public health of the people and caused widespread unemployment and poverty on the African continent.
In Gabon, a previous French colony, the current government in Paris has maintained a military presence inside the country to prevent unrest that could jeopardize the flow of oil to the western countries. Gabon was also a participant in the recent war games conducted by the Pentagon in the Gulf of Guinea and other areas in West Africa.
Africa and the Anti-Imperialist Movement
It is important that anti-war, peace and anti-imperialist forces in the United States pay close attention to the current situation in Africa. The U.S. conducts extensive trade with numerous African states such as Nigeria, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Egypt among others. Along with Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. has substantial military presence in and around the continent, most notably a military base in Djibouti and a flotilla war ships off the coast of Somalia and Kenya in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.
Anti-imperialists and peace advocates must oppose direct and indirect U.S. military involvement in Africa since it does not benefit the majority of the people living in these countries. In Somalia, despite the large scale military assistance to the TFG, the people remain in a chronic humanitarian crisis. This is also true of neighboring Ethiopia, which receives substantial military aid from the U.S.
Solidarity with the African peoples and other peoples suffering under the yoke of U.S. militarism and economic exploitation enhances and strengthens the movements of the working class and oppressed inside this country. The over $700 billion Pentagon budget cannot be justified in light of the growing economic crisis inside the United States itself.
The people of the U.S. need jobs, income, health care, environmental and food security, quality education and housing just like the peoples of Africa and other parts of the world. Our united struggle can create the conditions for a peaceful and just world for all.