Obama’s Africa Tour, An Attempt to Save Face

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AFRICANGLOBE – US president Barack Obama’s visit comes at a moment when the world is gripped with the spectacle of a young American, Edward Snowden, fleeing the United States because he was promoting freedom of information against the militaristic and police state in America.

With all the problems facing him at home — sequestration, unemployment, drums for escalating wars in Syria and divisions over immigration laws — Obama’s trip to Africa lacks substance and definition. What can he offer the continent? What does he bring to the table to justify his visit? Both former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush visited Africa during their second terms in office.

When Clinton and Bush made their journeys to Africa, the US foreign policy establishment had been guided by a three-pronged mantra.
These were: (a) the notion that Africa was facing a “threat” from international terrorists, (b) that the United States had strategic interests in Africa (especially with the flow of petroleum resources), and (c) the emerging competition with China.

The crisis of capitalism since 2008 and the hype about petroleum and gas self-sufficiency as a result of shale oil and new gas finds in the United States have added another layer to all. More importantly, the US plans for confronting China in Africa have been tempered by the reality that the US policy makers have to beseech China to continue to purchase US Treasury Bills.

In previous commentaries I have critiqued the imperial merits of Clinton’s and Bush’s reasons for visiting the continent. They were at least arguably more substantive and better articulated than Obama’s. The lack of specificity of Obama’s visit supports the argument advanced by some that as the first Black president of the United States, he has to visit Africa. After all, he has visited Europe numerous times.

This argument renders his visit nothing more than an item to be checked off his overarching presidential agenda. But in the context of the side lining of US economic interests in Africa by other key players like China, Obama’s visit could be seen as one effort to boost support for US capitalists on the continent. Giving credence to this argument is the fact that Obama visited two of the countries also visited by the president of China, Xi Jinping, a few weeks ago — Tanzania and South Africa.

Past presidential visits had the paternalistic agenda of lecturing Africans on governmental transparency, democracy, human rights, fight against corruption, freedom of speech, et cetera.  Yet, given the current climate of scandals orchestrated by the media in the US, Obama would appear hypocritical in making these panned statements about supporting democracy in Africa.

While that has not stopped past presidents, this time the cat is out of the bag. The multiple scandals surrounding the banks and the extent of the corruption of Wall Street exposed by Matt Taibbi and others have dwarfed any discussion of corruption in Africa. America’s inability to rein in the mafia-style activities of the bankers is open and in full view of the world audience.

In this commentary I want to place president Obama’s African trip in the context of the depth of the political and economic crisis in the United States. Starting with the efforts of the G8 in calling for the Western mining companies to follow laws and pay taxes, this commentary will reference the success of the Pan African opposition to Africom and US militarism that has predisposed the Obama administration to retreat from the perpetual Global War on Terror as conceived by the neo-conservatives.

The conclusion will again call for the peace and justice forces to support reparative justice so that the relations between the citizens of the United States and the citizens of Africa can move in a new direction.

Beyond the Looting of African Resources

Obama won a convincing victory for a second term in November 2012. However, despite the mandate he received from the electorate to break from the policies that enrich the one per cent, this second term has been bogged down because Obama has refused to take bold steps to join with the majority to confront the Wall Street moguls.

Since Obama entered the White House in January 2009, the question of which section of the US government directs policy towards Africa has swirled at home and abroad.

These questions have taken on added importance in the face of the insurrections in Tunisia and Egypt and the instability unleashed by the NATO intervention in Libya. Faced with new energies for change and unity in Africa (most manifest in the recent African Union gatherings by many forces in Addis Ababa this past May), the US foreign policy establishment has reached a fork in the road.

The main drivers of US foreign policy: Wall Street Bankers, petroleum and the military planners (along with the private military/intelligence contractors) have now been overtaken by a sharp shift in the engine of the global economy coming out of Asia. As more news of the corruption of the rigged financial architecture is revealed, all of the states of the G77 are looking for an alternative financial system that can protect them from the predators of Wall Street.

With the details that traders of the biggest banks manipulated the benchmark foreign exchange rates involving US$4.7 trillion per day coming on the heels of the LIBOR interest rate scandals after the energy price manipulation, the peoples of Africa along with the rest of the world are finding out that under the current financial and political system there is no price that the big banks cannot exploit.

It is the nature of the corrupted financial system to save the US dollar that has driven societies such as South Africa into BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and is hastening the evolution of an alternative financial architecture. The organisational thrust of the economic formation called BRICS, along with the creation of the BRICS Development Bank, pose a serious challenge to the US dollar and the International Monetary Fund.

Obama is following the example of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, by visiting South Africa to assess firsthand the political and social climate at a moment when all and sundry are looking for ways to get into Africa’s changing economic dynamic.

The nervousness and anxiety of the West over the future of the US financial dominance was quite clear from the communiqué issued after the recent 2013 G8 meeting in Ireland.  Most of the points in the communiqué issued by the White House (the Lough Erne Declaration) dealt with the challenges coming out of Africa and the role of transnational corporations plundering African resources without paying taxes.

Prior to the G8 meeting, the 2013 Report of the Africa Progress Panel headed by former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, called on the same G8 leaders to police their corporations. The Panel had called for inter alia:

  • The G8 and the G20 to establish common rules requiring full public disclosure of the beneficial ownership of companies, with no exceptions.
  • Companies bidding for natural resource concessions to disclose the names of the people who own and control them.

The destructive extraction of resources from Africa is old and has taken new forms, as Patrick Bond reminds us in Looting Africa: The Economics of Exploitation. For the past six decades the World Bank domination of economic arrangements in Africa has seen the period of dramatic capital flight from Africa.

Part Two