James N. Kariuki*
April 4, 2014 marked the 46th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. One of his most publicized acts was to denounce publicly the American involvement in the unpopular Vietnam War. The fact that King was killed exactly a year to the day that he made the anti-Vietnam War announcement still raises eyebrows. Was a bigger force than a lone assassin involved in his murder?
Reverend King was many things to different people but, fundamentally, he was an African American civil rights activist. By condemning American involvement in the Vietnam War King risked alienating Lyndon B. Johnson, an immensely influential and sitting US president who was sympathetic to his civil rights agenda. When asked why he took that chance, Dr. King responded that, to him, justice was indivisible, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Viewed from another perspective, King’s declaration was broader: he could not honestly oppose racial injustice in America yet turn a blind eye to an obvious case of racial injustice in Southeast Asia. Built into this reasoning was a pointed indictment that President Lyndon B. Johnson could not forever get away with the claim of supporting civil rights for Black Americas while presiding over a costly, racially-tainted and brutal war in Vietnam.
Since King’s time, the world has become increasingly sensitive to its demarcation into distinct beneficiaries and victims. At the bottom of the pile, the ultimate casualties as in the North-South divide are Africans and Black people worldwide. But there have been progress in the quest for a solution, partly as a result of Reverend Martin Luther King’s inspiration.
Regarding the gross universal inequalities, the prolific Professor Ali Mazrui has consistently advocated that Global Africa should embrace the strategy of counter-penetration. This means that Black folk who were once openly and blatantly penetrated by Western colonialism should now turn the tables by working to occupy high positions of power within the Western world itself. From such heights, it is said, they are positioned to dispense justice for their fellow brethrens worldwide.
The Ali Mazruis, Chinua Achebes, Ngugi wa Thiong’os, Wole Soyinkas etc. and other American Africans intellectual giants are un-appointed ambassadors of this strategy in the universe of academia. As prominent educators in US educational institutions, these African Diasporans-of-the-Willing have unbridled opportunity to sensitize upcoming generations of future American decision-makers to the agonies and aspirations of continental Africans and Black folk worldwide. Post-colonial American African ‘Diasporans’ in academia are especially suited for this version of counter-penetration.
Equally critical is the role of the black Diaspora of the Unwilling, Diaspora of Enslavement, the descendants of those Africans who were transplanted to the West against their will. They are an integral part of Global Africa lodged in the West, including the most powerful nation on earth, the USA. What has their penetration of power dispensed for Africa so far?
The strategy of counter-penetration attributes substantial credit to itself for the reality that the US was less close-minded in condemnation of Kenyans than its European counterparts regarding the 2007 post-elections violence. This open-minded approach was instrumental in ultimately resolving the crisis. Remarkably, it was the African American, Jendayi Frazer, who made an on-site visitation to Kenya and reported her findings to her African America boss, Condoleezza Rice. It is noteworthy that, in addition to being African American, Frazer had studied in Kenya and her doctoral dissertation was on the same country. Presumably, her report on the post-election violence reflected that Kenyans were people with human faces.
The same counter-penetration perspective points out that African American, Colin Powell, reached the pinnacle of American military hierarchy and became the US Secretary of State. Powell had more than a passing interest in the agonies of the Sudan.
African American Condoleezza Rice followed Colin Powell to become the Secretary of State during the George W. Bush presidency. Granted, Rice was not a flag-waving black activist, but her skin is black. At some point, she was touched by one black cause or another. Was it not uniquely symbolic that she wept publicly when Barack Obama won the US presidency to take over from her own white boss, George W. Bush? Blackness seemed to have overridden the fact that Obama was a Democrat while Rice and her boss were Republicans? There was more.
In April 2008, Condoleezza Rice, urged the US Senate to pass a law to remove South Africa’s ANC categorization as a terrorist organization from the US database. The unflattering classification was originally attained during anti-apartheid era when the apartheid regime portrayed the party as a terrorist organization. Ten years after the demise of apartheid, ANC members still could not get visas to enter the US without personal waivers by the Secretary of State. In most cases, the mere requirement of the waiver amounted to visa denial.
In 2008 Rice told a Senate hearing that she found it discomforting to have to personally waive visa restrictions for her South African counterpart, the Minister for Foreign Affairs. More disconcerting, she had to do the same for the world-acknowledged icon of peace, Nelson Mandela.
The 2008 bid against ANC categorization was spearheaded by a Californian liberal lawmaker, Representative Howard Berman. His language was more biting. “It is shameful that the US still treats the ANC this way, based solely on its designation as a terrorist organization by the old apartheid South African regime.” Regarding Mandela requiring a special waiver of the Secretary of State to obtain entry visa for the US, he simply stated, “What an indignity.”
This was not the first time that African American Diasporans-of-the-Unwilling fought for black-ruled South Africa within the confines of the American political system. One of the unsettling landmarks for the demise of apartheid was the passage of the 1986 Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act. That legislation resulted from unrelenting work of the US Congressional Black Caucus under the leadership of a black Congressman, Ronald Dellums. Most notably, its passage was an override over the veto of a popular President, Ronald Reagan.
Before Reverend King, Black Americans in South USA could not vote, much less become legislators. Today, the same black Americans have occupied virtually every political position, including the US presidency. Behind it all is King’s powerful notion that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. After all, Barack Obama’s political calling was first triggered by racial injustice in South Africa. This is a case of counter-penetration at its finest.
**James Kariuki is Professor of International Relations and a private consultant based in South Africa.The views expressed in this blog are his