Foremost among the neo-colonialists is the United States … 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 …

The general objective … to achieve colonialism in fact while preaching independence. Kwame Nkrumah

Presidents Obama and Mills in Ghana July 2009 (I particularly like this picture because the two Presidents look so genuinely pleased to greet each other.)

Presidents Obama and Mills in Ghana July 2009 (I like this picture because the two men look so genuinely pleased to greet each other.)

This is in large part what Obama was doing when he gave his speech in Ghana. I have put together a number of reactions to President Obama and his speech in Ghana here. As Stephen Gowans writes:

It should come as a surprise to no one but the weakly naïve and politically untutored that the role of the US president in Africa is to promote and defend the interests of the United States, not Africans. This is so, even if the US president shares the skin color of Africa’s majority. … It is Obama’s goal as representative of US capital to open, and keep open, Africa’s vast resources to exploitation by Western, and particularly US, capital without impediments of corruption, war and pan-African, nationalist or socialist projects of independent development getting in the way. …

[In Ghana] Obama used his speech to sell two fictions: (1) that Africa’s underdevelopment has nothing to do with colonialism and neo-colonialism, but is rooted in corruption, tribalism and Africans’ blaming others for their poverty; and (2) that Africa’s development depends on adopting institutions that allow foreign capital unfettered access to African markets and resources.

Salim Lone discusses the meaning and implications of Obama’s visit in What Obama can do for us. Lone allows Obama a bit more benefit of the doubt as to Obama’s intentions. But Lone is a keen observer and no fool, and he realizes the US Africa Command is not going away.

His visit can help African democracy if he curbs a misguided US belief in security by military force.

The president’s personal knowledge of and interest in Africa, his charisma and his grassroots support mean that he could be a major player here. This is particularly true since Africa’s low profile among the American political elite allows US leaders a lot of leeway in formulating policy towards it.

But as Obama devises US approaches to African challenges, he will face difficulties from an unexpected quarter – the US military. George Bush and his war on terror, and his reliance on force as a first resort, gave the military extraordinary power in shaping African policy – symbolised by Bush’s creation of the United States Africa Command (Africom), in the misguided notion that the military approach was the best way to tackle terrorism. Thankfully, African governments overwhelmingly resisted the siting of Africom bases.

But Africom is a reality, so it is vital that Obama move to curtail one of its most dangerous mandates: its involvement in economic development and humanitarian actions. This risks the militarisation of Africa’s political and social life – areas that remain the best hope for a better Africa.

People don’t give up power easily or generously. Having acquired premier status in US Africa policy, the Pentagon is unlikely to want to rescind any of that power. Those working on the front lines are building their careers, and have little incentive to cut back. There is also a huge corporate juggernaut driving the policy. As Lone points out, it is vital to curtail the Pentagon’s development and humanitarian mandates. These activities are much more effectively done by civilian organizations. Done by the military, this inevitably militarizes civilian space, the opposite direction from what most people in Africa want, and the opposite direction from good governance and democracy.

Lone writes that Obama has made hawkish appointments, and has recently decided to ship arms to the TFG government in Somalia, not just continuing, but escalating US involvement in Somali internal affairs.

This new intervention is a continuation of the ruinous Bush policy in Somalia, which resulted in the militant al-Shabab Islamists – a previously negligible group – emerging as the country’s dominant force after large numbers of Somalis were radicalised by US air strikes and the 2007 invasion by Ethiopia, Somalia’s arch enemy, to topple the popular and moderate Union of Islamic Courts.

And most critically, Obama must confer with civil society leaders.

One thing he would consistently hear from our civil society leaders would be that good governance – democracy, inclusion, respect for human rights and the rule of law – is non-negotiable. He would also hear that some of the significant gains made in expanding freedoms in multi-party Africa are being rolled back. This is not surprising, as the strategy of the US war on terror reverted to the cold war model of supporting dictatorial allies, which in east Africa included the Ethiopian and Ugandan leaderships.

Obama would also hear that there can be no compromise on free and fair elections. In too many countries recently – including America’s close allies Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya, as well as Zimbabwe – elections have been seriously tainted, and have been followed by violence, the loss of liberties and the strengthening of state security organs.

One of President Obama’s most important priorities for Africa must be to work with and encourage the emergence of a progressive group of African leaders who can become indigenous models for democratic, accountable and inclusive governance – which alone will ensure African, as well as global and American, security.

If Obama were committed to these actions and goals, as Lone says, it will enhance American as well as African security. Unfortunately, that does not look like the direction Obama is heading. From the East African: US names ‘military’ envoys to Kampala, Dar

By nominating an advisor to the US Africa Command (Africom) as Washington’s envoy to Kampala and a retired US Army general as envoy to Dar es Salaam, Obama is signalling that security concerns will remain at the top of the US agenda in East Africa, just as they were during the Bush years.

In statements to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, both nominees put emphasis on fighting terrorism in the countries where they would respectively represent the United States.

James Shikwati wrote Obama Redefined the “Door of No Return” But…, in which he points out a number of metaphorical doors of no return that Obama spoke about, and other important ones on which he was silent.

Obama’s hard hitting statements on Africa’s tyrannical leaders, corruption, tribalism and lack of institutions symbolically point at the continent’s self inflicted modern day doors of no return. His emphasis that “…Africa’s future is up to Africans” could be based on the fact that after 500+ years of people on the continent suffering the fate of externally engineered “doors of no return” it is nonsensical to expect salvation from the same (outsiders). It is up to Africans to either shut the door and or turn it into a door of opportunity where one can always “return” a hero.

The myths such as that propagated in Kenya that some communities are more enterprising and educated than others masks tribalism as another door of no return. If one particular group holds hostage the governance system of a country and goes ahead to award tenders and strategic opportunities to themselves, they subject others to a door of no return.

President Barack Obama either deliberately or through omission opted to engage in silences in his address to Africa. In pointing out that Kenya had a higher per capita economy than South Korea at the time he was born, Obama failed to discuss who “owned” that economy he refers to. It is one thing to refer to a successful nation and another when one discusses individual citizen’s role in such a success. Kenyans are still struggling 46 years after independence to move out of spectator status (picking flowers, serving as watchmen, cooks – what I refer to as employment economy; while actual wealth is transferred elsewhere) in terms of wealth creation. …

Gowans give us more about Korea, why it is such a bad comparison:

“It is easy to point fingers, and to pin the blame for (Africa’s) problems on others,” said Obama, explaining that,

“Countries like Kenya, which had a per capita economy larger than South Korea’s when I was born, have been badly outpaced. Disease and conflict have ravaged parts of the African continent. In many places, the hope of my (Kenyan) father’s generation gave way to cynicism, even despair.”

During the years of its rapid economic growth, south Korea did not follow the development path Obama prescribes for Africa today. Instead, it built five-year industrial plans that singled out industries the government would nurture through tariff protection, subsidies and government support. Foreign currencies necessary for importing machinery and industrial inputs were accumulated through foreign exchange controls, whose violation was punishable by death.

In his speech, Obama created the impression that south Korea developed rapidly because it followed policies the World Bank endorses, while at the same time Africa stagnated, because it didn’t. This is doubly false. Not only did south Korea not follow World Bank policies – in fact, it did the very opposite – Africa has been practically run by the IMF and World Bank since the 1980s. Under their guidance, African living standards have worsened, not improved. Over the same period, the Western world’s financial elite – which exercises enormous influence over the World Bank and IMF – saw its wealth expand greatly.

Returning to Shikwati’s article:

On Zimbabwe, Obama got it wrong. Whereas it is true that the West is not 100% responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwe economy; Obama “silence” here ignores the West’s involvement in land politics and subsequent lack of productivity in this country. The Zimbabwe story might one day turn out to be a clear case of sabotage and an attempt to perpetuate the notion that only particular types of people can be farmers.

Stephen Gowans tells us more about Zimbabwe:

Until 2000, land reform moved at a snail’s pace. As part of a negotiated settlement with Britain, the independence movement agreed to a willing buyer-willing seller arrangement, whereby land could only be acquired for redistribution if the owner wanted to sell. This restriction was to remain in effect for the first 10 years of independence. Since most farmers of European origin were unwilling to sell, little land was available to redistribute.

Eventually Harare was free to expropriate land from farmers who didn’t want to sell. Britain had agreed to help compensate expropriated farmers but renounced the agreement, denying it was ever under any obligation to fund land reform. Since Harare didn’t have the funds to pay for the land it needed for redistribution, it had two choices: Carry on as is, with land redistribution proceeding at a glacial pace, or expropriate the land and demand that expropriated farmers seek compensation from London, which after all, was ultimately responsible for the theft of the land and had promised to underwrite the land reform program. The Mugabe government chose the later course, setting off alarm bells in Western capitals. Mugabe couldn’t be allowed to get away with uncompensated expropriation of productive property.

Analyses that attributed Zimbabwe’s economic disaster to mismanagement overlooked the reaction of Washington to the Mugabe government’s lese majesty against private property. For not only did the turn of the century mark the beginning of fast-track land reform, it also marked the passage of the US Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA.)

ZDERA is not a regime of targeted sanctions against individuals, as many believe. Sanctions against individuals do exist, but ZDERA is something altogether different. ZDERA has two aspects. First, it authorizes the US president to “support an independent and free press and electronic media in Zimbabwe” and “provide for democracy and governance programs in Zimbabwe.” This is code for doing openly what the CIA used to do covertly: destabilize foreign governments. Second, it instructs the United States executive director to each international financial institution (the World Bank and IMF, for example) to oppose and vote against:

(1) any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the government of Zimbabwe; or

(2) any cancellation or reduction of indebtedness owed by the government of Zimbabwe to the United States or any international financial institution.

Since ZDERA was passed in 2001, Washington has blocked all lines of credit, development assistance and balance of payment support from international lending institutions to Zimbabwe.

As bad as ZDERA is, it’s not the only sanctions regime the United States has used to sabotage Zimbabwe’s economy.

You can find more information and detail in Gowans article.

Shikwati continues discussing what Obama left out of his speech.

Obama also deliberately engaged in “silences” when he simply chose to gloss over Western patronage in Africa; governance and talked of “old habits must also be broken” in reference to dependence on commodities as if all this is Africans fault not to engage in value added exports. What is governance for instance, is it government service delivery to its people? Paid for by whom? African countries cannot purport to have good governance if other countries pay for their upkeep. Patronage will continue unless Africans pay for the upkeep of their own governments. A value added relationship with external and African markets is what will translate to positive contribution to governance.

As to US support for good governance, that is also a myth. As student leader and leading activist of the Progressive Movement for Change Victoria Lakshmi Hamah writes from Ghana:

The basic goal of US military programmes is to provide for the security of the local political elite and economic hit men and to insulate them from the social consequences of their economic decisions. Its orientation of African military officers will also ensure that there will be no possible rise of nationalist governments that will aim at the nationalization of oil and mineral production. A political elite isolated and insulated from the prevailing social conditions will have no incentive to protect even the existing semblance of democratic culture. The rise of patronage politics and sectarian outlook will mirror a situation of hopelessness where social opportunities are so limited that the great mass of the people have to be dependent on very narrow layer of society. The rise to public power by politicians will depend on US money and intelligence activity than on the existing limited form of popular consent.

It is important to note that US military and intelligence presence in any part of the world has created and re-enforced the most tyrannical and corrupt regimes of the world. In Africa we know of at least Bokasa, Mmobotu . But it is important not to forget our own history with the United States of America. History and the Present

Forty three years ago the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the US financed and coordinated the bloody overthrow of the Government of Kwame Nkrumah. Declassified CIA documents establish the fact that the CIA hired Ghanaian military and police officers to carry out the 24 Feb 1966 bloody overthrow of Nkrumah. Analysis of the CIA documents also reveals the incredible: Nkrumah’s head had a price tag!

As she points out earlier in her article:

Last year, in Accra, President Bush evaded the question of the establishment of a US military base in Ghana put him by Kwesi Pratt Jnr, editor of an Accra leftwing newspaper—the Insight—with the derogatory ‘baloney’ retort. Available evidence supports the fact that George Bush visited Ghana with a proposal to make the country host the Headquarters of the Africa Command Division of the United States Army.

and:

Obama is no doubt a sensation. But the heroism, sensation and public appeal has overshadowed the real character and direction of Obama and the content of the ‘change’ he promised.

She adds:

Nkrumah had maintained strong ties with the US and allowed the American Peace Corps into the country. In trying relating to the US Atta Mills must not take label to mean content and should access the real implications of the Obama visit. The cold war conditions that provided Nkrumah with development options also exist today. Yokohama’s end of history theory published after the collapse of the ‘iron curtain’ is itself now history. Islam is new world force. Russia is back! China is reaching to the skies!! The world stage now looks like a multi-polar world.

President Atta Mills has the obligation to defend Ghana’s sovereignty and independence. After all the US is broke; Ghana can depend on the assistance of other rising powers in the short term to stabilize the economy alongside building the conditions for self reliance both in production capacity and markets in the context of south-south cooperation. In dealing with America we should go beyond the handsome Negro face of the young Harvard graduate; we should analyze within the context of the existing global balance of power and western credit crunch the foreign policy aims of a desperate world power.

Daniel Elombah writes Obama should apologise to Africa. He points out that Obama made apologies to Europe and apologies to the Arab world when he travelled to France and Egypt, but his words to Africa had a different tone:

Obama said in Cairo: “Each nation gives life to democracy in its own way, and in line with its own traditions”, but America and the West has not allowed African democracy to evolve on its own. In so many ways and in so many times, they have interfered in Africa’s development – by sponsoring coups (against Murtala Muhammad and Mobutu Sese Seko against Patrice Lumumba); by manipulating elections (Nigeria, 1960’s); by encouraging murder (Abiola); by doctoring census results (Nigeria); by Imposing foreign and harmful policies (IMF/World Bank); and by generally ravaging the continent and bringing about environmental and social degradation (oil exploration in the Niger Delta, Copper and Diamond Mining in Congo).

Barack Obama said in Ghana: “for far too many Africans, conflict is a part of life, as constant as the sun. There are wars over land and wars over resources”, but what he failed to add was the role of western and American companies in fuelling these conflicts- in the Niger Delta, in Congo, Sierra Leone, Congo and elsewhere.

As Gowans points out about Obama’s words on conflict:

As leader of a country currently engaged in three wars of aggression (Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan) and which threatens to escalate its aggressions against Iran and north Korea, one might think Obama would be ashamed to lecture anyone on the importance of resolving conflicts peacefully.

Returning to Elombah:

Obama is right when he said: “development depends upon good governance. That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. That is the change that can unlock Africa’s potential. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans”.

However, let us not forget that at the root of Africa’s predicament are the tri-partite combination of bad leadership, rich countries exploitation of Africa and the imposition of wrong policies by international Institutions.

Obama has come and gone, the speech is classic and the rhetoric is exceptional. But the best way to test whether he would be different from other American presidents is to explore the question of African strategic interests, or, alternatively, American strategic interests in Africa, and examine the ways in which and the degree to which Obama’s pursuit of American policy is consistent with or diverges from that of his predecessor- George W. Bush.

For example: Africom was established during George W. Bush’s regime, will the Barack Hussein Obama’s regime continue with Africom? What about the interest of American oil companies in Angola, Equatorial Guinea and the Niger Delta? Will an Obama regime move against their interest vis-a-vis African environmental, economic and political interest?

In Obama’s speech in Ghana, did he mention anything about Barclays Bank establishing a tax haven in Ghana, warning against such vehicle being used for tax evasion and money laundering – in support of transparency and anti-corruption efforts, to expand cooperation in intelligence gathering and sharing and reigning in the vicarious liability of tax havens and offshore banks.

Did he talk about pushing the boundaries of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) (passed by the US Congress before his tenure) to have the expanded power to bite both givers and takers of bribes – both American multi-national countries and kleptomaniac African leaders?

Did he talk about stopping and Withdrawing US Visa from corrupt African politicians – to stop them spending their looted funds in America; Stopping the marketplace for high stakes elite bribery?

One observer said: To many, the Bush personality was a bit too crude and, in some respects, brutish for the world to accept. Put some colour on him, with a sophisticated and intelligent personality, and now you have the same agenda for Africa, skilfully repackaged in an Obama. The agenda remains the same–imperialistic, exploitative, and, ultimately, deadly–but the general perception is different. It is seductive.

Africa should not expect too much from Obama. The reason being that those that understand the way things really work in the United States, a change of a person as president do not necessarily signal a change in policy and direction.

In the United States, the president is less a leader than a manager of policies formulated by corporate elite interests. Thus there is stability of the political system, regardless of who is president. US presidents come and go, but the interests remain constant.

If, in fact, you want good governance in Africa, developing the military, and emphasizing military to military cooperation is the last thing you should do. Victoria Lakshmi Hamah got it exactly right when she said the role of the military is to protect leaders and ruling elites from the social consequences of their actions. We can see it at work in US allies/clients, Equatorial Guinea, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia. Where democracy and responsive government may begin to grow, the military can be used to crush it. In fact, helping crush democratic movements is one purpose of US military “cooperation.” We have seen it on many continents for many decades. Nkrumah’s words quoted at the beginning above are even more true today than when he wrote them in 1965. He also said:

IN order to halt foreign interference in the affairs of developing countries it is necessary to study, understand, expose and actively combat neo-colonialism in whatever guise it may appear. For the methods of neo-colonialists are subtle and varied. They operate not only in the economic field, but also in the political, religious, ideological and cultural spheres.