Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Behind the Clinton Tour of Africa: Secretary of State Reveals U.S. Imperialist Policy Towards the Continent

Behind the Clinton Tour of Africa

Secretary of State Reveals U.S. Imperialist Policy Towards the Continent

by Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
News Analysis

There was much anticipation on the African continent in regard to the visit of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to seven countries over an 11 day period. Clinton made stops in Kenya, South Africa, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Nigeria, Liberia, and Cape Verde. However, the overall outcome of the tour was to largely reaffirmed existing U.S. policy towards Africa that has existed since the late 1950s.

President Barack Obama, who is the first African-American to occupy the Oval Office, has a direct connection to the East African nation of Kenya, the first country where Clinton visited on August 5. Heads of State on the continent are hoping that this historic link will serve as an inspiration for the administration to take a more serious look at the U.S. foreign policy role towards Africa.

Nonetheless, despite the significance of the Obama presidency, the same economic and political interests that have driven U.S. policy are still very much in effect. Dating back to the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, the U.S. imperialists have developed a strategy of domination through mineral extraction, trade, political engagement and military involvement.

During the Eisenhower administration several British and French colonies gained their national independence. Starting with Sudan in 1956 and Ghana in 1957, who were former British colonies and later Guinea-Conakry in 1958, which alone among French possessions took a stand for independence as opposed to the neo-colonial plans advanced in Paris, the national liberation movement in Africa gained tremendous momentum.

In Algeria between 1954-1961, the National Liberation Front (FLN) fought an armed and political struggle to win independence from France in 1962. In 1960, 18 colonies gained their independence from colonial powers based in England, France and Belgium. By 1963, when the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was formed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, there were over 30 independent states on the continent.

Nevertheless, the former colonial powers of Europe and to an ever increasing degree, the United States, still sought to dominate the politics and economies of the African continent. The former President of Ghana and one of the key leaders of the African liberation struggle that developed after the conclusion of World War II, Kwame Nkrumah, pointed out in 1965 that the U.S. had become the dominant imperialist power operating in Africa and throughout the world.

In Nkrumah's book entitled "Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism" published in 1965, he writes that "Faced with the militant peoples of the ex-colonial territories in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, imperialism simply switches tactics. Without a qualm it dispenses with its flags, and even with certain of its more hated expatriate officials. This means, so it claims, that it is ‘giving’ independence to its former subjects, to be followed by ‘aid’ for their development.

"Under cover of such phrases, however, it devises innumerable ways to accomplish objectives formerly achieved by naked colonialism. It is this sum total of these modern attempts to perpetuate colonialism while at the same time talking about ‘freedom’, which has come to be known as neo-colonialism," Nkrumah says. (Introduction to Neo-Colonialism)

In this same work, Nkrumah finds it necessary to explicitly point out that "Foremost among the neo-colonialists is the United States, which has long exercised its power in Latin America. Fumblingly at first she turned towards Europe, and then with more certainty after world war two when most countries of that continent were indebted to her. Since then, with methodical thoroughness and touching attention to detail, the Pentagon set about consolidating its ascendancy, evidence of which can be seen all around the world."

Continuing through the 1970s and 1980s, the U.S. supported the most reactionary, pro-imperialist policies towards Africa. Successive administrations, both Republican and Democratic, opposed and undermined genuine national liberation movements and progressive states. Efforts aimed at economic development were sabotaged through the machinations of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Pentagon.

After the abolition of white minority rule in the sub-continent with the independence of Namibia and South Africa during the early 1990s, the U.S. imperialists continued their operations through direct military intervention in Somalia during 1991-93, the escalation of military involvement with the Mubarak government in Egypt and the bombing of Sudan under the Bill Clinton administration in 1998.

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., the U.S. increased its intervention in Somalia and intensified efforts to overthrow the governments in Zimbabwe and Sudan. In Nigeria, Africa's most populous state, the role of U.S. and British oil firms has created social tensions, widespread environmental degredation and the consequent decline in productivity and revenue generation.

U.S. Africa Policy Under Obama

Secretary of State Clinton's first stop on her 11 day tour was in the East African nation of Kenya. She attended a regional trade conference where she emphasized the administration's intentions to increase trade between the U.S. and various African countries in the region. Moreover, during her visit to Kenya, Clinton meet with the president of the U.S.-backed Transitional Federal Government in neighboring Somalia.

In a joint press conference at the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Clinton and President Sheik Sharif Ahmed, discussed how Washington can provide additional financial, political and military support to the fledging government that is largely propped-up by the African Union "peacekeeping forces" (AMISOM). Clinton represented the highest-ranking diplomat to make direct contact with the Somali transitional regime.

This meeting between the U.S. Secretary of State and President Ahmed is part of a process that will lead to full diplomatic recognition of the Somali regime by the international community. Somalia has been without an internationally recognized government since the collapse of the U.S.-backed regime of Siad Barre in 1991. Although the U.S. under Bush provided assistance for the AMISOM forces in Somalia, most of the aid was funneled through the United Nations and the AU.

However, the Obama administration has emphasized the need to provide a political boost to the transitional Somali government. The administration has announced recently that it is sending 40 tons of weapons and munitions in addition to supplying training to a reconfigured military force to protect the Ahmed government.

Clinton stated in a press conference held on August 6 at the U.S. embassy in Nairobi that "We believe this government is the best hope we've had in quite some time for a return to stability and the possibility of progress in Somalia. It's fair to say that President Obama and I want to expand and extend our support." (Los Angeles Times, August 7)

This military involvement in Somalia had escalated under the previous administration of George W. Bush. In 2006, when the Islamic Courts Union had taken control of large sections of the country, the CIA was suspected of funding warlords inside Somalia who sought to promote U.S. aims in the country. In December of that same year, the U.S.-backed government in Ethiopia military invaded Somalia on behalf of the Bush administration supposedly in an effort to curb the rising tide of "Islamic extremism" which was linked to Al-Qaeda.

During the early phase of the Ethiopian occupation of Somalia, the U.S. Airforce carried out at least six aerial bombardments inside Somalia under the guise of attacking suspected terrorists. The Ethiopian intervention lead to the worst humanitarian crisis on the continent. As a result of the resistance by the Somali people, the Ethiopian military was forced to retreat in January of 2009.

According to the Los Angeles Times "Neither Clinton nor Ahmed would comment on specific U.S. commitments made on August 6, but Somali officials said discussions centered on providing additional weapons, boosting humanitarian assistance and formalizing ties, such as exchanging ambassadors." (Los Angeles Times, August 7)

Officials within the Somali transitional government see U.S. assistance as their only hope of not being overthrown by the resistance movements of Al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam, who constituted the radical elements within the Islamic Courts Union. A more moderate wing, headed by the current transitional head Sheik Sharif Ahmed, agreed to enter the U.S.-backed regime after Ethiopian forces exited the country. However, the transitional government has limited control over the country and even the capital of Mogadishu is largely under the influence of Al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam.

"U.S. support is very important to us," Ahmed said in the press conference on August 6. "The U.S., because it is a superpower, has the responsbility to move us out of the current crisis. But closer U.S. ties bring risks for both sides." (Los Angeles Times, August 7)

Leaders within the Al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam organizations have already appealed to the Somali people on the basis of U.S. pledges of greater military and political support to the transitional regime. Al-Shabab commander Sheik Muse Hassan Ali stated recently that "There is no difference between Bush and Obama. Both are against Islam and are trying to eradicate Islamic governments around the world." (Los Angeles Times, August 7 )

Ali went on to say that he welcomed the shipment of military equipment to the transitional government because he felt the arms would eventually fall into the hands of the resistance forces. Ali stated that "we are ready to confiscate all these weapons."

In South Africa, Clinton attempted to persuade the newly-elected African National Congress (ANC) government under President Jacob Zuma of working with the U.S. to remove Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his political party from the recently created inclusive government. South Africa has worked with the Zimbabwe government in forming a coalition with the opposition and to have western sanctions lifted that were imposed by the U.S., Britain and the European Union in response to the country's land redistribution program that was enacted in 2000.

The ANC government in South Africa has resisted repeated attempts under the previous Bush administration to have the country cut off power supplies and implement an economic blockade against neighboring Zimbabwe. South Africa has extended credit to the Mugabe government to offset the impact of western sanctions. Zuma has maintained the same posture of support towards Zimbabwe despite pressure from the Obama administration which is still seeking to oust President Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union, Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). Obama has continued to implement sanctions against Zimbabwe even though a coalition government has been formed with the opposition Movement for Democatic Change(MDC) parties.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo Clinton spoke about the need to address the impact of the ongoing conflicts in the eastern region of the mineral-rich central African nation. The DRC has a long history of U.S. intelligence interference as well as corporate involvement. During the early days of independence in 1960-61 under pan-africanist leader Patrice Lumumba, the CIA plotted his overthrow and murder and then backed the installation of Colonel Mobutu who ruled the country for 37 years at the behest of imperialism.

After Mobutu was overthrown in 1997, the U.S. then sought to continue its domination of the country through their support of the governments in neighboring Rwanda and Uganda. A regional war erupted in August of 1998 largely at the instigation of the Bill Clinton administration. The U.S. encouraged and financed the invasion of the DRC by the armies of Rwanda and Uganda. A five-year war ensued that drew in the involvement of Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia on the side of the Congolese government. These actions lead to the deaths of millions in the DRC between 1998-2003.

The U.S. mininig firms are still extracting huge amounts of wealth from the eastern and southern regions of the country. Recently the Obama administration has announced new initiatives to provide military training to the Congolese army. The U.S. also supplies material and financial assistance to the United Nations Mission to the Congo (MONUC) which has approximately 17,000 peacekeepers in the eastern region of the country.

In Angola, the Secretary of State sought to lecture the MPLA government about the need for transparency inside the country. Angola is now the leading oil producer on the continent of Africa, surpassing the West African state of Nigeria. During the first decade-and-a-half of Angola's independence (1975-1989), the U.S. supported the efforts to undermine the former Portuguese colony by supporting the couterrevolutionary UNITA movement that was working in the interests of imperialism in conjunction with the former apartheid regime in South Africa.

When Clinton visited Nigeria, she also sought to point the finger at the government for corrupt practices and the lack of good governance. Yet no mention was made of the role of the multi-national oil firms that dominate the economy and provide no benefits to the majority of people inside this country of over 100 million people. Recent unrest in Nigeria stems largely from its reliance on these same U.S. and European oil firms that have continued make huge profits at the expense of the workers and farmers of the country.

Clinton also raised the purported threat of "Islamic terrorism" during her Nigerian visit. "Al Qaeda has a presence in Northern Africa," Clinton said. "There is no doubt in our mind that al Qaeda and like organizations that are part of the syndicate of terror would seek a foothold anywhere they could find one, and whether that is the case here or whether this is a homegrown example of fundamentalist extremism--that's up to the Nigerians to determine."(CNN)

Such statements by the Secretary of State reflect recent U.S. military policy towards Africa. The establishment of the Africa Command (AFRICOM) during 2008 has signaled the increased willingness of U.S. to intensify its interventions on the continent. At present there is a U.S. military base established at Camp Lemonier in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti and flotillas of warships are patrolling the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean under the guise of fighting "piracy". Other military operations are being conducted in the Gulf of Guinea off the west African coast which is a major source of oil exports into the United States.

Daniel Volman of the African Security Research Project in Washington, D.C. revealed in a recent article that during 2008 the U.S. military engaged in war games that focused on possible larger-scale interventions in Nigeria and Somalia. According to Volman, "In May 2008, the United States Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, hosted 'Unified Quest 2008,' the army's annual war games to test the American military's ability to deal with the kind of crises that it might face in the near future.

"'Unified Quest 2008' was especially noteworthy because it was the first time the war games included African scenarios as part of the Pentagon's plan to create a new military command for the continent: the Africa Command or Africom. No representative of Africom were at the war games, but Africom officers were in close communication throughout the event." (AllAfrica.com, August 14)

In an earlier article by Volman published in June 2009, he reviews the military budget submitted to Congress by the Obama administration which indicates that the U.S. is planning to increase military involvement in Africa. Volman says that "The Obama administration's budget for the 2010 financial year proposes significant increases in U.S. security assistance programmes for African countries and for the operations of the new U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). This shows that--at least initially--the administration is following the course laid down for AFRICOM by the Bush administration, rather than putting these programmes on hold until it can conduct a serious review of U.S. security policy towards Africa." (AllAfrica.com, June 11)

Volman points out that the budget includes funding for military education and training programs involving nations such as Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda, Equatorial Guinea, Somalia, Zimbabwe and the DRC. In addition, there are plans to fund so-called peacekeeping operations to counter "terrorism" in East Africa. There are other programs to provide support for the peace accord in southern Sudan and the MONUC operations in the DRC.

Volman writes that "The budget request also includes $67 million in support for the African Union Mission in Somalia. And it contains a request for $96.8 million for the Global Peace Operations Initiatives (GPOI). The request for GPOI includes funding for the African Contingency Operations and Training Assistance Program (ACOTA)--which provides training and equipment to African military forces to enhance their peacekeeping capabilities--although the specific amount requested for ACOTA is not provided in the budget summary." (Volman, June 11)

Administration Policy Continues Imperialist Aims

Consequently, these developments indicate clearly that the supposed renewed interest in African affairs on the part of the current administration will continue the same policies of promoting and advancing the economic and political priorities of the United States ruling class. Clinton, following the line of Obama in his recent speech to the Ghana Parliament, blamed the problems of underdevelopment, food insecurity and social instability on the lack of good governance in Africa. "The most immediate source of the disconnect between Nigeria's wealth and its poverty is a failure of governance," Clinton said. (Reuters, August 13)

Gitau Warigi, a political analyst in Kenya, wrote in the Daily Nation that the underlying reasons behind the Secretary of State's visit was not altruism but strategic U.S. interests in Africa. Clinton sought to belittle the growing role of the People's Republic of China in Africa, however, Warigi states that "There are strategic interests involved," in reference to U.S. attempts to regain ground lost over the last several years during the former Bush administration.

Nonetheless, these attempts at increasing U.S. military involvement in Africa will not win the hearts and minds of the continent's people. Despite the efforts of previous administrations to influence events in Africa, the majority of the workers and farmers have not significantly benefited from trade agreements and the presence of large-scale business ventures on the continent.

Africa's people must be the primary beneficiaries of all economic agreements signed with the U.S. The U.S. military adventures in Africa are always designed to enforce existing relations of production and unequal terms of trade. It is only when the majority of the people in Africa take control of the ownership and production of their economic resources will there be the potential for genuine independence and national development.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire and has followed intensely the unfolding actions of the Obama administration in regard to its foreign policy towards the African continent.

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