South Africa in Context of African Tradition of Forgiveness
February 11, 2014 | 0 Comments
James N. Kariuki*
South Africa is a rich country by African standards. Yet, since 2009 the same SA has earned the dubious distinction of being the world’s most socio-economically skewed society. This lopsidedness became the talk of global critics as far back as May 1998 when the then-SA Deputy President, Thabo Mbeki, stated before Parliament that his country was not a nation; it was merely two nations of rich whites and desperately poor blacks rolled into one.
In analyzing the racially defined socio-economic fault line in SA, commentators are unanimous that colonialism and apartheid were the initial offenders. But in the post-apartheid era a small undercurrent of thought emerged suggesting that the economic divide was elongated and widened by ‘compromised negotiations’ that were largely steered in the early 1990s by the late liberation icon, Nelson Mandela.
Though an intriguing possibility on first encounter, the ‘flawed negotiations’ proposition remained relatively muted during Mandela’s lifetime presumably because few dared to stand up and be counted as Madiba’s detractors while he lasted. After all, he was the acknowledged, ultimate victim of apartheid who had evolved into mankind’s darling in old age. Indeed, to many in South Africa and beyond, Mandela had become an icon, the country’s only convincing psychological cement.
In post-Mandela era, however, the argument of ‘faulty negotiations’ has re-surfaced with gusto, a fact vividly reflected by the formation of a new political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, headed by the former ANC maverick, Julius Malema. EFF is resolved to win the 2014 elections and officially embark on correcting the alleged errors in the negotiations of the early 1990s.
In those negotiations, the logic goes, Mandela was admirably tough on the political front, but was excessively soft on the economic side. In the end, Madiba settled for a lopsided economic deal that disinherited black folk. As a globally acclaimed analyst has put it, “a great Faustian bargain was struck between the two races. The Whites said to the Blacks, ‘You take the crown and we will keep the jewels.’”
Meanwhile, the wealthy whites are said to have murmured among themselves, “We will give them the vote but keep the banks.” Seemingly, they knew and understood that political power without economic power was as dry as dust.
The economic ‘soft-to-apartheid’ logic has been echoed by prominent personalities deeply loyal to Mandela. Among others, the list includes Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Professor Ali Mazrui and, especially, Mandela’s former wife, Winnie.
Believers in this thinking do not necessarily accuse Mandela of sinister scheming to bring more harm to the much tormented Blacks; but they do insist that more economic concessions should have been demanded for the historically brutalized fellow Africans. In short, what Mandela is blamed for is embarking upon misguided priorities: peace at the price of poverty for Blacks.
Some are convinced that the ANC pushed Mandela to accept the strategy of going easy on the economic front during the negotiations. Reportedly, the party was tired of an ungovernable country: constant fighting, never-ending-labor strikes, the general strife and struggle. ANC longed for peace. But then, tactically, it was Mandela who chose to jump, and he went too far in the wrong direction.
For the radicals, Winnie among them, Mandela had been mellowed by the lengthy apartheid imprisonment. For that reason, he unwittingly went overboard to accommodate the apartheid machine in a manner that verged on appeasement. As a result, he got and accepted a ‘sucker’s economic deal’ for his people. Was there an element of forgiveness in Mandela’s behavior?
Perhaps Mandela’s overall softness to apartheid’s economic destiny was partly derived from an older Pan-African thought. Indeed, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah had addressed the same question of what domain African anti-colonialism should target first: political or economic power? Nkrumah responded in his capacity as the elder statesman in African nationalism by asserting, ‘Seek ye first the political kingdom and all things shall be added unto you.’
During the SA negotiations in the 1990s, was Mandela inspired by Nkrumah’s ‘political-kingdom-first’ doctrine? It should not be held against Madiba in the least if he was not aware of that dictum. After all, he was already in political prison when African nationalism took off in earnest and debates of that nature became commonplace.
Yet, evidence suggests otherwise. In addition to his famous photographic memory, Mandela was well read. Ali Mazrui tells how he was once in a conference and, accidentally, bumped into Mandela in the hallway. Startled, Mazrui greeted the global icon and introduced himself. Mandela responded, ‘Oh, Professor Ali Mazrui, nice to meet you! I used to read your publications when I was in prison!”
If Mandela remembered Ali Mazrui’s name and that he had followed his works while in prison, he certainly knew of the Pan-African economic-political kingdoms debate pertaining to African decolonization. Indeed Nkrumah’s statement on this issue remains one of his most cited decrees ever, and Mazrui has published extensively on Nkrumah. In de-emphasizing the economic aspect of the negotiations to abolish apartheid, was Mandela acting under the spell of Kwame Nkrumah?
To Mandela, the driving imperative was SA as a whole. For the survival of his country, he chose the political-kingdom-first-proposition by embracing reconciliation and nation-building. This, an attempt to build a Rainbow Nation, was indeed the only viable alternative that made sense to Madiba of that time. This was not necessarily the easy route in an angry and volatile country and the call was public: one Boer one bullet.
Mandela was convinced that, to avoid a catastrophic and unwinnable civil war and for the country to survive and move forward, it needed both its Black and white citizenry working together. After all, the White man had the skills and capital; the black man had the labor.
The idea in Mandela’s negotiation camp was that, once political power was in the grasp of Blacks, the economy could slowly be transformed to respond more to their needs. After all, was Affirmative Action not the approach that the USA had adopted since the 1960s to uplift African-Americans? Indeed this became the rationale behind South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) of the coming years. Unfortunately, BEE has so far fallen short of uplifting the poor Blacks and bringing about economic equality in SA
Was Mandela a lone voice in the wilderness of African history in seeking reconciliation with his former tormentors? This question invites another: what do SA, Zimbabwe and Kenya have in common? It is common knowledge that all are in black Africa and were all once European colonies. Each was home to a sizeable presence of white settlers and independence struggle in each involved bloodshed.
What is less publicized is that they all sought to consummate their independence in the spirit of reconciliation, a reflection of what has been called African capacity to forgive. In his bid to extend a hand of friendship to his former tormenters, Mandela was not alone.
Thirty years earlier, Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta also emerged from colonialists’ lengthy political imprisonment urging his countrymen to pull together to build the nation. Meanwhile, he appealed to the former colonial detractors to stay in newly independent Kenya. To assure them of their sense of belonging in black-ruled Kenya, he went the extra mile of writing a book clearly aimed at calming their nerves. Hence the surprising title of his popular 1968 book, Suffering without Bitterness.
A dozen years before Mandela took over in SA, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe also expressed remarkably similar sentiments. History seems to have forgotten that in 1981 Mugabe was shortlisted as a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize for his initial enthusiasm for reconciliation following the transition from white-ruled Rhodesia to majority-ruled Zimbabwe. As the country’s first president Mugabe stated, “Our people, young and old, men and women, black and white, living and dead, are, on this occasion, being brought together in a new form of national unity that makes them all Zimbabweans.”
Ian Smith, the ultimate anti-thesis of African nationalism and all that it stood for, the white man behind a brutal seven year war in Rhodesia and loss of 30, 000 lives, remained free and untormented in majority-ruled Zimbabwe. In fact Smith became a Member of Parliament in Mugabe’s black government and its harshest critic.
It was only after these gestures that Nelson Mandela raised eyebrows by extending a hand of friendship to the Afrikaner community.
Jomo Kenyatta, Robert Mugabe and Nelson Mandela shared victimization and their response of seeking reconciliation once victors. This is a far cry from the behavior of, say, Israel. Some analysts have attributed this trait to black African cultures and their remarkable capacity to forgive.
Remarkably, Algeria had an identical experience as Kenya, Zimbabwe and SA It was colonized, had a sizeable white settler community and it fought a war of independence noteworthy for its appalling savagery. But to this day, Algerians and their colonizing French have never been able to forgive each other for the scale of inhumanity perpetrated during the war for independence. Does Arabic Algeria need a touch of African negritude?
*James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus) and an independent writer. He is based in South Africa. Views expressed in the blog Global Africa are his.
Nelson Mandela and the Rainbow Nation That He Never Saw
January 9, 2014 | 0 Comments
The South African economy is the largest in Africa. Yet, since 2009 SA has had the distinction of being the most economically skewed society worldwide. Consciousness of this lopsidedness is not new. It grasped the attention of international social critics as far back as May 1998 when Thabo Mbeki, then the Vice President of the Republic, stated before Parliament that SA was not a nation; it was two nations rolled into one. To Mbeki, SA was a superficial blend of a small affluent white society whose lifestyles rivaled the superrich anywhere in the world. The other SA was comprised of Black fellow citizens who ware locked in abject poverty without a way out. Mbeki’s statement came to be known as the ‘Two Nations Speech’, a candid display of a racial-economic divide seen around the world. In trying to understand the South African socio-economic inequality, critics agreed that colonialism and apartheid played a major part. But regarding post-apartheid era, a small undercurrent of thought emerged suggesting that the country’s socio-economic divide was aggravated and enhanced by ‘compromised negotiations’ that were carried out by the late liberation icon, Nelson Mandela. This proposition remained relatively muted during Mandela’s lifetime presumably because few dared to stand up and be counted as Madiba’s detractors during his lifetime. After all, he was the beloved, ultimate victim of apartheid. Now in post-Mandela era, that same line of reasoning is audible. In the negotiations to dismantle apartheid in the early 1990s, the claim goes, Mandela was admirably tough on the political front, but he equally too soft on the economic side. In the end, Madiba settled for a lopsided economic deal that disinherited his people. As one globally acclaimed analyst summed up the deal, “a great Faustian bargain was struck between the two races. The Whites said to the Blacks, ‘You take the crown and we will keep the jewels.’” The economic ‘soft-to-apartheid’ logic has been echoed by prominent personalities deeply loyal to Mandela, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mandela’s former wife, Winnie. Its proponents do not necessarily accuse Mandela of deliberate wrongdoing but they do assert that more could have been extracted in form of economic concessions for the dispossessed Blacks. Some have been known to whisper that Mandela went too far to accommodate the apartheid establishment in a manner that verged on appeasement. In return he got a ‘Sucker’s Deal’ economically. However, neither deliberate law breaking nor corruption was suggested. In fact, ethically and legally, Mandela’s post-apartheid leadership is generally accepted as having been virtually impeccable. A case could be made that Mandela’s overall soft-economic-approach to the demise of apartheid was not an ad hoc matter, that it derived impetus from older Pan-African thought. Indeed, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah did address the same issue of what domain should African anti-colonialism target first: political or economic power? Nkrumah responded in his capacity as the elder statesman of African nationalism by asserting, ‘Seek ye first the political kingdom and all things shall be added unto you.’ During the negotiations to abolish apartheid, was Mandela aware of Nkrumah’s ‘political kingdom first’ dictum? He would be forgiven if he was not. After all, he was already the ‘world’s most famous political prisoner’ when African nationalism took off in earnest and such debates became commonplace. Yet, evidence suggests otherwise. In addition to his well-known photographic memory, Mandela was well read. Professor Ali Mazrui tells of how he was once in a conference and, accidentally, bumped into Mandela in the hallway. Startled, Mazrui greeted the global icon and introduced himself as Ali Mazrui. “Oh, Professor Ali Mazrui,” Mandela responded, “nice to meet you! I used to read your publications when I was in prison!” If Mandela remembered Mazrui’s name and that he had read his publications while in prison, he certainly knew of the economic-political kingdoms debate relative to African decolonization. Indeed Nkrumah’s dictum on this issue is one of his three most cited decrees ever and Mazrui has published extensively on Nkrumah. In de-emphasizing the economic front in the negotiations to abolish apartheid, was Mandela of the early 1990s acting under the spell of Nkrumah, the leading continental Pan-Africanist? In all likelihood, Mandela of the early 1990s was less preoccupied with ideologies than the practical circumstances that surrounded him, realities that were uniquely South African. For the survival of his country, he chose to reach out for political kingdom first by following the path of reconciliation and nation-building. An attempt to build a Rainbow Nation peacefully was indeed the only viable alternative. In this sense, Mandela was not establishing a new tradition. He was following in the footsteps Kenya’s Founding father, Jomo Kenyatta, who also left a colonial jail intent on writing a book clearly aimed at calming down his former British colonial tormentors. He entitled the book, Suffering without Bitterness. In early the 1990s, most of the world was still too caught up in the euphoria of Mandela’s release from prison to notice that the economy of the country that he was soon to soon start governing was in shambles. For decades, SA had been the world’s number one pariah state and had been victimized for being ‘God’s forsaken country.’ Its economy was virtually wrecked by strikes and rampant violence, an atmosphere of catastrophe, instability and uncertainty prevailed. The mood of doom that hung over SA deteriorated immensely from the 1980s and was profoundly unattractive to foreign investors. International economic sanctions had become universal and were now biting deeply. And then in 1986 the sanctions were boosted by the passage of the US Congressional Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act. American divestment movement was also gaining momentum and contributed further to apartheid’s economic isolation. Finally, there were anti-apartheid protests in almost every Western city. It was not in exaggeration that white South Africans lamented of total onslaught against them. Those economic hardships left little room for Mandela to demand remedial socio-economic programs such as nationalizations of mines and land reforms. Realistically then, Mandela did not deliberately abandon his people economically in the bid to dismantle apartheid; the state of the economy did the compromising. It is often not realized that in the early 1990s, Mandela walked a tight rope; SA could have easily slipped into an ugly race war. On one side of the pole were millions of Blacks who had endured decades of staggering deprivation and humiliation for no fault of their own. By the 1990s, they were surely angry and in a hurry. They wanted drastic change; they were ready to chant: give me liberty or give me death. At the other end of the spectrum were the whites who had always known privileged existence. In case violence erupted, to them it was a matter of do or die. Taking their property would have been the ultimate crossing of the red line. Mandela was singularly called upon to use the force of his personality to assure both sides that SA was big enough for both sides and by insisting that it belonged to all those who lived in it, a Rainbow Nation. His primary mission became to persuade both sides that violence was not an option. To fellow Blacks he repeatedly said, “Some of us talk of revolutionary change like we are dealing with a defeated enemy, far from it.” In other words, violence at that juncture was tantamount to racial suicide. Simultaneously, Mandela was telling the white right-wing, “If you want to go to war, I must be honest and admit that we cannot stand up to you in the battlefield. It will be a long and bitter struggle. Many people will die and the country may be reduced to ashes. But you cannot win because of our numbers. You cannot kill all of us. And you cannot win because of the international community; they will rally to our side and they will stand with us.” Mandela did play his historical role in terminating political apartheid and bringing democracy to SA peacefully. For that he won the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. But the task of fusing socio-economic equality into the political kingdom turned out to be an infinitely more difficult undertaking. The year 2014 marks two decades after demolition of political apartheid. Yet, de facto economic apartheid remains intact. South African Blacks remain horrifically poor in absolute and relative terms. Indeed in 2009, SA sidelined Brazil as the most skewed society in the world. How to narrow the gap between the White South African haves and Black have-nots, how to construct bona fide fundamentals of a Rainbow Nation, eluded Mandela. Indeed it remains the most pressing challenge of post-apartheid SA in the years and decades to come. Unlike Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela’s was an incomplete revolution, a work in progress. **James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus) and an independent writer. He is based in South Africa. Views expressed in the blog Global Africa are his. ]]>
Intellectuals & South Africa’s Quest for Economic Transformation
January 7, 2014 | 0 Comments
South African politicians are always challenging their ‘thinkers’ to start discussing issues of national interest while they are still hot on the table. It is said that intellectuals wait until wrong decisions are made and then bounce on them to criticize and condemn. Who has been in default: intellectuals for speaking out after the fact or political leaders for not hearing objections? Regarding economic aspirations for post-apartheid SA, the discussion is not new. Indeed it was triggered in May 1998 by the then country’s Deputy President, Thabo Mbeki, when he stated before Parliament that SA was not a nation; it was two nations rolled into one. A small portion of SA was composed of a handful segment of affluent society that happened to be white. At the other extreme of the spectrum millions of the country’s citizens were locked in abject poverty with no way out. They happened to be black. The statement came to be known as Mbeki’s famous ‘Two Nations Speech,’ a concise indictment of racial-economic inequality that was heard around the world. According to Mbeki, It would take a long time for this divide, a 350 years’ legacy of ‘inequality,’ to be obliterated and allow SA to evolve the requisite psychological cement to form a bona fide nation. Until then, talk of a rainbow nation was a dream deferred. And a dream deferred simmers into explosive rage which, ultimately, explodes. Had Mbeki foreseen the 2012 Marikana Massacre where 34 miners were gunned down by police in broad daylight? Mbeki’s Two-Nations Speech did not delve into systematic details on how SA should proceed to change the status quo other than appeal to the privileged but unresponsive whites to accept the burden of uplifting the disinherited fellow citizens. However, it inspired younger generation of thinkers to start articulating their views on how to move the country forward economically toward a more just and equitable SA. Thus far, the youth are speaking out without fear or favor. After all, they have had minimal stake in the economic status quo. One perspective was articulated in South Africa’s black national newspaper, the Sunday Independent, of September 16, 2012. A young man noted that the country’s economy is a product of two nationalisms: British and Afrikaner. But contemporary SA is composed of three nationalisms. Economically, African nationalism is not reflected among the economic forces that have shaped the country. As a group, Black South Africans, the majority, are still sidelined as economic actors. They are an economically marginalized underclass in their own country. According to the author of that article, South Africa’s socio-economic lopsidedness has resulted from the country’s history. In a nutshell, the British molded the SA economy through their colonialism. Next, the Afrikaners used apartheid in conjunction with their “aggressive affirmative action program for Afrikaners” to entrench their presence in the country’s economy. Yet, after two decades of political independence, Black Africans are still waiting in the wings for their turn to have an economic impact. In SA, British imperial appetite was whetted by the discovery of minerals with which the country is generously endowed. Britain had much to gain from precious metals; they were highly lucrative in the global economy of that era. Accordingly, the British constructed a sophisticated infrastructure to ensure a smooth flow of those exports to the motherland. Indeed since the days of Cecil Rhodes, South Africa has had a comparatively more solid economic infrastructure than the rest of the continent. But SA also inherited another damning legacy from the British imperial order. Proclamation 14 of August 1875 reduced indigenous Africans to a source of cheap labor supply while excluding them from ownership in the mining industry. For the first time, the Proclamation introduced institutional racism into the SA political-economy. Was Marikana Massacre of August 2012 an ugly reflection of the British legacy in the country’s economy? On the other hand, the 1835 Great Trek and eventual establishment of the Transvaal consolidated the formation of the Afrikaner nationalism. The Afrikaners quickly realized that there was no ‘External Angel’ to bail them out; ‘they were in it alone’ and embraced a laager mentality of self-reliance. To this end, they built an industrial complex to address the issue of unemployment among their poor whites. Here too, blacks fitted neatly into a scheme of cheap labor source in Afrikaner-led industry and agriculture. [caption id="attachment_7892" align="alignright" width="240"] Prof-James-Kariuki[/caption] The logic continues that implementation of apartheid in 1948 and after was merely an intensification and general implementation of what the Afrikaner had learned, perhaps too well, from Cecil Rhodes and his associates in the British mining industry. In addition to intensification, apartheid extended the scope of the racial policies, policies that virtually marginalized black folk from the mainstream of the money economy altogether. And, with all its appalling dimensions, apartheid was not oppression by a foreign intruder in the colonial sense. It was a home-grown Afrikaner scheme, and the Afrikaner considered himself an African beyond the indigenous African. To African nationalism of the ANC orientation, the Afrikaner was a permanent challenge because he was born in SA; he was there to stay. In sum, British nationalism historically ‘hogged’ mining in SA as their turf; Afrikaner nationalism arrogated itself other industries and agriculture. The commanding heights of the SA economy were thus partitioned among the whites in such a manner that they thrived on unconscionable exploitation of black folk. In 1994, Black Nationalism finally forced democracy into the SA body politic, affirming the claim that “all men are created equal.” But abolition of political apartheid was not accompanied by demolition of economic apartheid. Yet, alas, does political power alone bestow equality among ‘men’? By all indications, Black Nationalism required penetration into the economic domain to realize full equality. And it should not be an insurmountable undertaking to fulfill Nkrumah’s dictum of ‘Seek ye the political kingdom first and the rest shall be added unto it.’ After all, in the post-1994 era, blacks have had the strength to make decisions favorable to themselves derived from a combination of numbers and associated political muscle. The question is then raised: what decisions have been made to transform the SA economy by successive black ANC governments to consolidate the 1994 political achievement of Black Nationalism? To the current black intellectuals who have spoken out, no new industrial enterprises have emerged under black stewardship since attainment of black political supremacy. In this sense, the post-1994 black governments have failed by neglecting to position their black constituency as a major economic force that it should be. Instead of pursuing the line of greater economic production, it is said, SA has engaged in a superficial scheme of capitalistic massage. White-owned businesses have co-opted a handful of politically well-connected Blacks to become integral part of their business establishments. These ‘inductees’ have become loyal political fronts, protectors of the old businesses from contemporary threats. That is Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) personified. On the other hand, the Government utilizes social grants to placate the huge marginalized underclass of blacks in an environment where unemployment is estimated to be between 25 and 45 percent. Social grants do not generate jobs and they do not make social services. Political economist, Moeletsi Mbeki views BEE as nothing less than legalized bribery. He is also convinced that SA is de-industrializing and increasingly sliding towards becoming a welfare state. In his view, the country needs to diversify its economy (from mining), encourage growth of black productive class of entrepreneurs, and advance knowledge in “sciences, math, engineering and management education.” “Without that…, we are going nowhere.” What do these and other contemporary thinkers have in common? Overall, they accept that Blacks are responsible for the country’s sluggish economic growth. In terms of action, they are driven by an ambition to face squarely SA overriding problems of poverty, crime, inequality and unemployment. Overall, they agree that SA must embark on an economic transformation in which a black industrial class figures prominently. In sum their views are that the SA economy, and corresponding political stability, must be anchored on blacks engaging in creation of wealth. **James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus) and an independent writer. He is based in South Africa. Views expressed in the blog Global Africa are his. ]]>
Intellectuals & South Africa’s Quest for Economic Transformation
January 7, 2014 | 0 Comments
James N. Kariuki*
South African politicians are always challenging their ‘thinkers’ to start discussing issues of national interest while they are still hot on the table. It is said that intellectuals wait until wrong decisions are made and then bounce on them to criticize and condemn. Who has been in default: intellectuals for speaking out after the fact or political leaders for not hearing objections?
Regarding economic aspirations for post-apartheid SA, the discussion is not new. Indeed it was triggered in May 1998 by the then country’s Deputy President, Thabo Mbeki, when he stated before Parliament that SA was not a nation; it was two nations rolled into one.
A small portion of SA was composed of a handful segment of affluent society that happened to be white. At the other extreme of the spectrum millions of the country’s citizens were locked in abject poverty with no way out. They happened to be black. The statement came to be known as Mbeki’s famous ‘Two Nations Speech,’ a concise indictment of racial-economic inequality that was heard around the world.
According to Mbeki, It would take a long time for this divide, a 350 years’ legacy of ‘inequality,’ to be obliterated and allow SA to evolve the requisite psychological cement to form a bona fide nation. Until then, talk of a rainbow nation was a dream deferred. And a dream deferred simmers into explosive rage which, ultimately, explodes. Had Mbeki foreseen the 2012 Marikana Massacre where 34 miners were gunned down by police in broad daylight?
Mbeki’s Two-Nations Speech did not delve into systematic details on how SA should proceed to change the status quo other than appeal to the privileged but unresponsive whites to accept the burden of uplifting the disinherited fellow citizens. However, it inspired younger generation of thinkers to start articulating their views on how to move the country forward economically toward a more just and equitable SA. Thus far, the youth are speaking out without fear or favor. After all, they have had minimal stake in the economic status quo.
One perspective was articulated in South Africa’s black national newspaper, the Sunday Independent, of September 16, 2012. A young man noted that the country’s economy is a product of two nationalisms: British and Afrikaner. But contemporary SA is composed of three nationalisms. Economically, African nationalism is not reflected among the economic forces that have shaped the country. As a group, Black South Africans, the majority, are still sidelined as economic actors. They are an economically marginalized underclass in their own country.
According to the author of that article, South Africa’s socio-economic lopsidedness has resulted from the country’s history. In a nutshell, the British molded the SA economy through their colonialism. Next, the Afrikaners used apartheid in conjunction with their “aggressive affirmative action program for Afrikaners” to entrench their presence in the country’s economy. Yet, after two decades of political independence, Black Africans are still waiting in the wings for their turn to have an economic impact.
In SA, British imperial appetite was whetted by the discovery of minerals with which the country is generously endowed. Britain had much to gain from precious metals; they were highly lucrative in the global economy of that era. Accordingly, the British constructed a sophisticated infrastructure to ensure a smooth flow of those exports to the motherland. Indeed since the days of Cecil Rhodes, South Africa has had a comparatively more solid economic infrastructure than the rest of the continent.
But SA also inherited another damning legacy from the British imperial order. Proclamation 14 of August 1875 reduced indigenous Africans to a source of cheap labor supply while excluding them from ownership in the mining industry. For the first time, the Proclamation introduced institutional racism into the SA political-economy. Was Marikana Massacre of August 2012 an ugly reflection of the British legacy in the country’s economy?
On the other hand, the 1835 Great Trek and eventual establishment of the Transvaal consolidated the formation of the Afrikaner nationalism. The Afrikaners quickly realized that there was no ‘External Angel’ to bail them out; ‘they were in it alone’ and embraced a laager mentality of self-reliance. To this end, they built an industrial complex to address the issue of unemployment among their poor whites. Here too, blacks fitted neatly into a scheme of cheap labor source in Afrikaner-led industry and agriculture.
The logic continues that implementation of apartheid in 1948 and after was merely an intensification and general implementation of what the Afrikaner had learned, perhaps too well, from Cecil Rhodes and his associates in the British mining industry. In addition to intensification, apartheid extended the scope of the racial policies, policies that virtually marginalized black folk from the mainstream of the money economy altogether. And, with all its appalling dimensions, apartheid was not oppression by a foreign intruder in the colonial sense. It was a home-grown Afrikaner scheme, and the Afrikaner considered himself an African beyond the indigenous African. To African nationalism of the ANC orientation, the Afrikaner was a permanent challenge because he was born in SA; he was there to stay.
In sum, British nationalism historically ‘hogged’ mining in SA as their turf; Afrikaner nationalism arrogated itself other industries and agriculture. The commanding heights of the SA economy were thus partitioned among the whites in such a manner that they thrived on unconscionable exploitation of black folk.
In 1994, Black Nationalism finally forced democracy into the SA body politic, affirming the claim that “all men are created equal.” But abolition of political apartheid was not accompanied by demolition of economic apartheid. Yet, alas, does political power alone bestow equality among ‘men’? By all indications, Black Nationalism required penetration into the economic domain to realize full equality. And it should not be an insurmountable undertaking to fulfill Nkrumah’s dictum of ‘Seek ye the political kingdom first and the rest shall be added unto it.’ After all, in the post-1994 era, blacks have had the strength to make decisions favorable to themselves derived from a combination of numbers and associated political muscle.
The question is then raised: what decisions have been made to transform the SA economy by successive black ANC governments to consolidate the 1994 political achievement of Black Nationalism? To the current black intellectuals who have spoken out, no new industrial enterprises have emerged under black stewardship since attainment of black political supremacy. In this sense, the post-1994 black governments have failed by neglecting to position their black constituency as a major economic force that it should be.
Instead of pursuing the line of greater economic production, it is said, SA has engaged in a superficial scheme of capitalistic massage. White-owned businesses have co-opted a handful of politically well-connected Blacks to become integral part of their business establishments. These ‘inductees’ have become loyal political fronts, protectors of the old businesses from contemporary threats. That is Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) personified. On the other hand, the Government utilizes social grants to placate the huge marginalized underclass of blacks in an environment where unemployment is estimated to be between 25 and 45 percent. Social grants do not generate jobs and they do not make social services.
Political economist, Moeletsi Mbeki views BEE as nothing less than legalized bribery. He is also convinced that SA is de-industrializing and increasingly sliding towards becoming a welfare state. In his view, the country needs to diversify its economy (from mining), encourage growth of black productive class of entrepreneurs, and advance knowledge in “sciences, math, engineering and management education.” “Without that…, we are going nowhere.”
What do these and other contemporary thinkers have in common? Overall, they accept that Blacks are responsible for the country’s sluggish economic growth. In terms of action, they are driven by an ambition to face squarely SA overriding problems of poverty, crime, inequality and unemployment. Overall, they agree that SA must embark on an economic transformation in which a black industrial class figures prominently. In sum their views are that the SA economy, and corresponding political stability, must be anchored on blacks engaging in creation of wealth.
**James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus) and an independent writer. He is based in South Africa. Views expressed in the blog Global Africa are his.
Nelson Mandela and the Elusive Rainbow Nation
December 10, 2013 | 0 Comments
James N. Kariuki*
In addition to being the largest economy in Africa, post-apartheid South Africa beats the entire world as the most skewed society worldwide. Discussion of this lopsidedness is not new. It gathered momentum from May 1998 when the country’s Deputy President, Thabo Mbeki, stated before the National Assembly that SA was still not a nation, it was merely two nations rolled into one.
To Mbeki, SA was a synthesis of a small and affluent white society whose lifestyles rivaled the superrich of the world. In the other SA, the majority of fellow citizens languished in abject poverty and happened to be black. Mbeki’s statement came to be known as the ‘Two Nations Speech,’ a concise indictment that was heard around the world.
In Mbeki’s vision, it would take a long time for this South African divide, a 350 years’ legacy of ‘inequality,’ to be obliterated and allow the country to evolve the necessary psychological cement to form a bona fide nation. Until then, talk of a rainbow nation was merely a dream deferred. And a dream deferred swells into explosive rage which, ultimately, explodes. Was Mbeki warning about the possibility of racial confrontation?
In trying to grasp the phenomenon, a small school of thought has since emerged that suggests that South Africa’s post-apartheid economic gap originated partly from history and partly from compromised negotiations on the part of the liberation icon, Nelson Mandela. While Madiba was admirably tough on the political front, he was too soft on the economic issues in dealing with the apartheid machine. In the end, Mandela settled for a deficient economic deal for his people. In the view of one prominent analyst, “a great Faustian bargain was struck between the two races. The Whites said to the Blacks: ‘You take the Crown and we will keep the Jewels.’”
This view of economic-soft-to-apartheid approach has been articulated by prominent personalities deeply loyal to Mandela. The list includes his former wife, Winnie Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the iconic Pan-African analyst, Professor Ali Mazrui. They do not accuse Mandela of deliberate sell-out but they do suggest that he could have done better for fellow Africans. Neither wrong-doing nor corruption is suggested anywhere. Other than this aspect of Mandela’s leadership, his political legacy is unblemished.
It is arguable that Mandela’s approach to dislodge apartheid was not an accident; it was inspired by older African thought. Indeed, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah once addressed the same question of, given the choice, what should come first target: political or economic power? Nkrumah spoke as an elder statesman of African nationalism in his dictum, ‘Seek ye first the political kingdom, and all things shall be added unto you.’ This is one of Nkrumah’s three most cited dogmas—ever. Was Nelson Mandela of 1994 acting under the ideological spell of former Pan-African icon?
In all likelihood, Mandela responded to the circumstances that surrounded him, realities that were uniquely South African. He decided to seek a political kingdom first by pursuing reconciliation and nation-building instead of confrontational economic kingdom. He realized that pushing for blacks’ economic sovereignty at that time (for example nationalization of mines and forceful takeover of white-owned land) would have triggered racial violence. Mandela was mindful that SA could not survive the loss of life, white skills and capital that would follow. He, therefore, opted to go softly-softly on the economic domain to save the nation.
Clearly, Mandela was a profoundly practical man. By sparing apartheid economic structures, he responded pragmatically to the realities that surrounded him. Against this background, his critics, the so-called ‘romantic revolutionaries,’ have tended to be dismissed for their indictment of Madiba for “being too conciliatory, too soft on the whites in negotiating our transition.” What tangible realities did Mandela face?
In the run up to the 1994 negotiations, South Africa was a deeply polarized society; violence and strife were everywhere. Indeed, it is an everlasting tribute to Mandela’s vision that he accepted and engaged the white military leadership, who stood prepared to welcome a racial conflict. After all, military lopsidedness was immense in favor of the apartheid machine.
I once heard Mandela blast his black fellows via the public media to the effect that ‘Some of us talk of revolutionary change as if we are dealing with a defeated enemy; far from it.’ These were code words for: ‘entertaining violence at this juncture is tantamount to mass suicide.’
At just about the same time that Mandela was publicly warning his people of the inadequacies of violence, he was secretly reasoning just as firmly against violence with the superbly trained and armed white right-wing military. As he once told a group of professional Afrikaner solders, “If you want to go to war, I must be honest and admit that we cannot stand up to you in the battlefield…. It will be a long and bitter struggle. Many people will die and the country may be reduced to ashes… but you cannot win because of our numbers. You cannot kill all of us. And you cannot win because of the international community; they will rally to our support and they will stand with us.”
Words of this nature turned the tide from looming deadly racial conflict to reconciliation and nation-building. However imperfect reconciliation might have been, it was infinitely preferable to racial war.
Mandela had considered the option of a civil war in SA and had dismissed it. He understood that demanding further economic concessions from the apartheid monster was crossing the red line. Blaming Mandela for what he did in 1994 is naive. He did what he could with what he had at this disposal. The challenge is what the current leadership should do given that the circumstances are different from those that Mandela faced.
Mandela has finally died but he left this world a man in peace. He did not see the rainbow nation that he so craved for his country. He left a country more prepared to become a rainbow nation if nurtured carefully. He left the world a frail man but spiritually he was a giant that the world adored in every way possible. Most importantly he left South Africans of all colors shedding tears that their icon was no more. In unison, they said to him: we will miss you Madiba. That was enough Rainbow Nation in Nelson Mandela’s spirit.
*James Kariuki is Professor of international Relations and an independent writer. He is a Kenyan based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Views expressed in the blog Global Africa are his.
Barack Obama, Tanzania and Illusion of Africa’s Food Security
September 3, 2013 | 1 Comments
James N. Kariuki*
In June-July 2013, US President Barack Obama embarked upon his first state visit to Africa. He made three regional stops: Senegal (West Africa), South Africa (Southern Africa) and Tanzania (straddled between East and Southern Africa.) But even before he departed, Obama’s itinerary had become contentious in that it excluded Kenya.
Kenya is by far East Africa’s power house, economically and otherwise. The US president claimed to be visiting Africa to enhance US-Africa interactions and to build business partnerships. By all accounts, a Kenya presidential stop made more sense than Tanzania. After all, Kenyans were losing lives in neighboring Somalia in a war against Islamic terrorism, a deeply significant issue in US foreign policy. Why was Tanzania prioritized? There was an inside GMO story that we were not told.
In May 2012, the US President ceremoniously launched the New Alliance for Food and Nutrition Security (NAFNS), ostensibly to eradicate hunger and poverty in sub-Sahara Africa within the next decade. The speedy African panacea would be realized by embracing ‘modern agricultural methods and technology’ undertaken in partnerships between African and Western governments and private interests.
Since his election, Obama had inexplicably become a close associated with biotechnology multinational corporations (MNCs.) Predictably, during the NAFNS launch, Obama did not mention what in the US had already become public buzz words: Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) foods, genetically-engineered (GE) foods or bio-technology. He preferred innocuous words like ‘modern agricultural methods and technology,’ words that concealed his intent of transplanting to Africa what was already highly contentious public issue in USA.
Naturally, fulfillment of the African food security miracle was to be spearheaded by the grand daddy of American GMOs companies, the world’s biggest agricultural and seed MNC, Monsanto. Here too Obama was cautious not to mention the notorious MNC by name. However, Monsanto’s CEO was present, to sing praises for the president’s ‘wise’ initiative and the lucky blessings for Africa at long last.
Critics were not so sure. They immediately questioned the NAFNS proposal primarily on the grounds that MNCs are historically known as blood suckers not inclined or equipped to be in the business of philanthropy. This has always been the case since the advent of the Dutch East India Company, the mother of all MNCs.
African activists also objected to NAFNS’ nascent dishonesty and exploitative intent. “We strongly object that the image of the poor and hungry from our countries is being used by giant multinational corporations to push a technology that is neither safe, environmentally friendly nor economically beneficial to us…. we think that it will undermine our capacity to feed ourselves.” In short, African critics saw NAFNS for what it really was, a Trojan horse to ferry American agricultural bio-technology Africa with or without Africans’ knowledge and consent. To the extent that Obama did not reveal the dangers of GMOs that were already public knowledge in the US, this was a case of a grand modern-era scheme of deception?
Now NAFNS was in place. With ten offices securely established in South Africa alone, Monsanto was poised to move north to implement its ‘GMO dispersal’ for Africa, now doubly emboldened by the partnership offer of the most powerful government in history. Barely a year after the NAFNS launch, and while most of the world was still urging caution regarding bio-technology, Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete started speaking openly in the home front endorsing GMOs as the life-savior foods for Africa and condemning GMO critics as under-informed lot that needed to be educated. Were the two phenomena accidental?
During his June-July 2013 state visit to Africa, Obama surprised many by skipping Kenya as one of his US presidential stops. In East Africa, he chose Tanzania and then South Africa for Southern Africa. Most analysts were convinced that Obama was out to counter China’s presence in the two countries. But an equally compelling reasoning is that Obama went to this part of the continent primarily to clear the way for GMOs to spread northwards unhindered.
In this regard, it is noteworthy that it was Obama who initially reached out for Tanzania’s President. In 2009, Jakaya Kikwete was the first African leader to be invited by newly-elected Obama to the White House. Three years later, the same Kikwete was back in Washington for the NAFNS launch. Obama returned the favor in 2013 by visiting Tanzania. How did Kikwete earn such closeness to the US president? One could be forgiven for suspecting that Kikwete has long been in the GMO plans?
Tanzania’s friendship was critical to the American GMO plan in Africa. South Africa is Monsanto’s center of operations in Africa; it has been so since the apartheid era. In the Monsanto scheme of things Tanzania is now the northernmost soft spot, strategically vital as GMO’s stepping stone for further continental penetration.
In this context, Tanzania stands head and shoulder above neighboring Kenya. Kenya has become more than an irritant to the biotech industry; in November 2012 it officially banned importation of GMOs into the country. In the GMO’s northern drift, Kenya is the first really GMOs unfriendly frontier. On the other hand, Tanzania is a member of the Southern African Development Community, more reachable via the dominant South Africa.
Finally, southern Tanzania is a vast arable farmland ideal for MNC mono-crop agriculture. Quest to develop the region’s agriculturally goes back to the Julius Nyerere. It was then an adjunct economic justification behind the push to build the Tanzam Railway. Now southern Tanzania is a god-send opportunity for both Monsanto and Tanzania.
By his own admission, Obama came to Africa in mid-2013 in the interest of greater US-African engagements and to promote business partnerships with Africans. Agriculture is certainly a defendable centerpiece of his vision for Africa; the continent possesses the requisite ingredients for enormous agricultural growth. It is not far-fetched to suggest that a significant part of Obama’s special assignment in Africa in 2013 was to clear the way for American bio-tech companies to move north along the path of least resistance. Tanzania under Kikwete is an important foot soldier in that American broad strategic plan. Perhaps Africa’s iconoclasts can be forgiven for conjuring up images of modern day scramble for Africa.
*James N. Kariuki is a Professor of International Relations (emeritus) and an independent writer. He is a Kenyan based in South Africa.More of his views can be read on the blog Global Africa
Kenya: Outpost of Conflicting Global Interests
August 24, 2013 | 0 Comments
James N. Kariuki*
An increasing number of analysts are now convinced that the 2007-2008 post-election violence in Kenya was not derived from simple ethnic mistrust and hatred; it was largely due to politicized ethnicity. Politicians had conveniently contaminated ethnicity to fulfill personal ambitions. And the contesting local political forces ultimately found themselves hand-in-hand with like-minded foreign allies. Was this a form of internationalized ethnicity?
It is still astonishing to recall how quickly and vehemently the European Union jumped to declare Kenya’s December 2007 vote tally to be fundamentally flawed. Since rigging is usually associated with the incumbent government, there was a strong ‘suggestion’ in the EU announcement that the regime of President Mwai Kibaki had been guilty of wrongdoing relative to those elections.
That allegation no doubt fed into the opposition’s claim of wrongful usurpation of a hard-won victory and its righteousness in demanding it by whatever means necessary. Hence, the amorphous intensity and fury of the violence that followed.
Shortly after the EU made its opinion public, the Americans joined the array of Kenya’s election evaluators. To illustrate how seriously Washington viewed the Kenyan crisis, a senior government official was dispatched to the scene. After consultations and preliminary investigation in Kenya, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Fraser, unveiled her findings. Yes, there were irregularities in the election procedures, but both sides had been guilty of misconduct Consequently, it was impossible to tell who had actually won. This was a striking contradiction to the EU position by the leader of the Western world.
Fraser’s statement was more than a denunciation of the vote count. It was an indictment of the entire voting process. In effect, she nullified the opposition party’s claim that Kibaki had ‘stolen’ the election. On the other hand, Fraser’s statement also made a mockery of Kibaki’s counter-claim that he had won the election fair and square. From Fraser’s perspective, the electoral voting process made the elections null and void.
In all likelihood the US and the EU, respectively, had the same Kenyan election data in front of them. If so, why did they come to such divergent conclusions? Surely in the 21st century, we do not need a rocket scientist to sort out who got more votes between candidate A and B. What appears like a mere disagreement over interpretation of election results may indeed manifest a profound conflict of interests within post-Cold War West.
In October 2007, the EU donated a $2 billion to South Africa as development aid in context of their newly-established strategic partnership. Yet, SA is classified as one of upper middle-income countries that normally do not receive foreign aid. Indeed foreign aid constitutes such a small portion of South African budget that it can easily do without it. What then prompted the EU to part with such a hefty donation for a country that does not need it?
According to the EU Commissioner for Development at that time, Louis Michel, the aid was needed to consolidate EU’s relations with South Africa as a ‘strategic partner.’ South Africa’s Minister of Finance concurred that the donation indeed reflected a deepening partnership between the EU and SA.
But what made it so compelling that the EU-South African partnership had to be ‘deepened’? Michel explained that Europe was glued to a backward mentality that Africa was a burden and a pawn. Meanwhile, the rest of the world had awakened to the reality that the continent was an opportunity. And the emergent global economic giant, China, had become particularly threatening because of its easy investments, loans and general economic aggressiveness. In short, the EU needed to rush and organize partnerships with Africans.
To the EU, Kenya of that time (2007) was already a disappointing illustration of an opportunity lost. As a result of negative experience with Western donors, Kenya under Mwai Kibaki had quietly set out to make itself less international aid-dependent. Indeed, Kenya had already reached a stage where it prepared its budgets without factoring in foreign donations.
More ominously, Kibaki had turned East in search for economic development and business fellowship. The Chinese presence in Kenya (and Tanzania) was clearly a fait accompli replacement of Western influence, especially British. This reality cut across the board from consumer goods to building the historic Uhuru Railway, supplying police vehicles to constructing highways.
Was the Chinese presence in Kenya sufficiently threatening to the EU to trigger longings for change in African leadership. Was EU’s assessment of Kenya’s 2007 election prompted by a desire for regime change? After all, the EU Development Commissioner is on record that he was out to convince Africans that the EU was a more dependable partner than China in every respect. Doubtless Kibaki, and in all likelihood Tanzania’s Mwalimu Julius Nyerere before him, would have chuckled at the arrogance of such claims.
In analyzing 2007-8 Kenya’s post-elections violence, the EU and the US had divergent views because they were inspired by their own priorities and national interests. While the EU looked forward to establishing an economic foothold in post-election Kenya, the US had ‘war on terror’ as its preoccupation. From the American perspective, Kibaki probably had done himself a ‘favor’ by deporting some Islamic suspects to Ethiopia to be interrogated by the CIA. This was enough to dampen the impulse for regime change in Kenya. That is why Uncle Sam was not so certain who won Kenya’s 2007 elections.
The moral of this story is that what nations say cannot always be taken at face value. National leaders at times sugarcoat issues, outright lie or their perceptions, deliberately or unwittingly, contain unstated agenda items. Given that we are not always told the truth, is it an exercise in academic futility to simulate what our friends and foes may be up to?
*James Kariuki is Professor of international Relations and an independent writer. He is a Kenyan based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Views expressed in the blog Global Africa are his.
Making of an African Dictatorship: The Case of Robert Mugabe
July 29, 2013 | 0 Comments
James N. Kariuki*
The elongated plight of contemporary Zimbabwe is nothing short of a crime against humanity; it should not be happening in the 21st century. Yet, it may be feeble-minded of us to believe that the country’s woes are due to one ‘madman’, Robert Mugabe. Great Britain is just as implicated in the disaster.
There is a widely held view that Mugabe will never voluntarily surrender power because, if he ever does, the sins of his past will come back to haunt him. There is convincing evidence for clinging to that view.
Memories of Zaire’s former President Mobutu Sese Seko linger. He died and was buried in Morocco in 1997 as a dejected, tormented and stateless person. Similarly, Mugabe is mindful of the betrayed and deeply humiliated Charles Taylor. After a long trial at The Hague for his wrongdoing as Liberia’s leader he is serving a 50 year sentence languishing in a British jail.
Equally unnerving are the woes of Frederick Chiluba in Zimbabwe’s neighboring Zambia. He relinquished power democratically to his former protégé, Levy Patrick Mwanawasa, fully assured of exemption from prosecution for his missteps as head of state. However, it did not take long for that immunity to fizzle; Chiluba endured an agonizingly long international case of graft before his death in June 2011.
Mugabe has been in power for much longer than Taylor or Chiluba. The winding road that he has travelled is much longer, in all likelihood much bloodier and more intriguing. He owes it to himself to shield the skeletons in his closet as long as he can. After all, who on the African political landscape can be entrusted with such an awesome task? Poor Robert Mugabe is a caged man: there is no place to hide except in Zimbabwe under his iron rule.
Mugabe has been tried in absentia and found guilty in the conscience of much of the Western world. The case against him, we are told, is so overwhelming that his political rhetoric should be dismissed with the contempt that it deserves.
While regretting Zimbabwe debacle, another perspective insists that Mugabe must be granted another, more open-minded hearing. How can the national hero for the liberation of Zimbabwe simply turn around and tear the same country to shreds?
A Mugabe protagonist once protested that, short of a shooting war, international economic sanctions are the worst thing that can happen to any country. They are punitive measures that kill, starve and impoverish innocent people. Zimbabwe has been under such Britain-sponsored international sanctions for fifteen years.
It is generally accepted that the British mindset towards Zimbabwe is driven by bitterness over Mugabe’s land reforms policy. The clear objective of that policy is to repossess white-owned land in Zimbabwe and redistribute it to the ‘rightful owners’, indigenous Africans. Since the launch of the so-called ‘forceful land-seizures,’ relations between the Mugabe regime and Britain have deteriorated from bad to worse.
In his view, Mugabe is locked in a deadly fight to affirm Zimbabwe’s right to engage in a land redistribution scheme. He faces an adamant opponent in Britain whose interest is defined by the fact that the disputed white farms were owned by their own kith and kin in Zimbabwe. There is no room for negotiations; it is a classic case of zero-sum-game.
Mugabe abhors the British in part for deeply personal reasons. And he sees political opponents in Zimbabwe as proxies of the British on a mission to execute Anglo-American neo-colonial agenda. In Mugabe’ view, that mission is hardly intended to affirm democracy, it is to get rid of Mugabe by whatever means necessary and give back the repossessed farms to the whites. Such an eventuality Mugabe finds impossible to contemplate. Indeed he considers any hints towards that goal treasonable.
To Mugabe, relinquishing power to organized opposition is tantamount to abdication of his duty to the people of Zimbabwe. He was in the trenches during fifteen years of liberation struggle from the claws of racist Ian Smith. Zimbabwe’s freedom was bought with the blood of patriots, hundreds of thousands of them. To protect and safeguard that freedom from neo-colonialism, penetrating Africa through indigenous politicians, is not dictatorship, it is the ultimate form of patriotism.
This perspective may sound like pro-Mugabe and self-serving rhetoric, but it strikes a sympathetic chord among African political elite of all ages. In his days of political glory, the now-deposed ANC Youth League President, Julius Malema, advocated nationalization of mines and land repossession in SA. Those ideas derived inspiration from Mugabe’s actions in Zimbabwe. Was this political ‘Black brotherhood’ syndrome in action?
Mugabe is widely condemned for the collective pain visited upon his people. He dismisses such reasoning by insisting that his actions are directed at the enemies of all Zimbabweans. To the extent that the Movement for Democratic Change is seen as an ‘agent’ of forces external to Zimbabwe, it is portrayed as the enemy of Zimbabwe, its members as traitors, not innocent servants of Zimbabwe.
Finally, it is the West that chose collective punishment against Zimbabweans. By imposing economic sanctions, the United Kingdom launched a form of collective punishment that triggered the meltdown of Zimbabwe economy and its vitality as a state. This was the ultimate form of human rights violation that did not discriminate between the guilty and the innocent.
The people of Zimbabwe certainly deserve better. Meanwhile, we are left with an intriguing question: Was Mugabe born a dictator or did Britain make him into one?
**James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus) and an independent writer. He is based in South Africa. Views expressed in the blog Global Africa are his.
China and Barack Obama’s Defective Offer of Equal Partnership
July 24, 2013 | 0 Comments
James N. Kariuki*
The most vivid testament of China’s sense of fellowship with Africa so far is the railway that the Chinese built in the 1970s connecting Tanzania and Zambia. Inspiration to construct the Tanzam Railway, otherwise known as TAZARA or Uhuru Railway, was drawn from several inputs but it was largely driven by political considerations.
In the early 1960’s white-ruled Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) longed for unbridled self-rule from colonial Britain in order to determine its own future. Clearly, Rhodesia’s ruling white-supremacists intended to be included in consolidating a white-ruled Southern African region composed of itself, South Africa and Portuguese Angola and Mozambique. Such an alliance would make it more manageable to resist assaults of ‘winds of change’ blowing across black Africa. To affirm their seriousness, Rhodesian white minority ultimately proclaimed Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) on 11 November 1965.
One harmful consequence of a fully independent Rhodesia was that it would threaten Zambia’s external trade routes; Zambia would be landlocked in a hostile neighborhood of unwelcoming white oligarchies. To survive as a copper-exporting state, and to continue supporting the liberation struggle against white domination in Southern Africa, Zambia needed an independent access to the sea. That choice finally focused on a railway link to Tanzania’s port of Dar es Salaam.
Presidents Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda made heroic attempts to secure funding for the proposed railway from Western sources but they were unsuccessful. They failed even after approaching Britain, World Bank, US, Russia and Japan. Invariably, the West rejected a largely political railroad on economic grounds; insisting that the undertaking was not economically viable.
In early 1965, however, Tanzania and Zambia got a pleasant surprise. The Chinese said to a visiting Nyerere, “If a railway is important to you and Zambia, we will build it for you.” On the basis of racial fellowship and shared historical experience the Chinese appreciated that the railroad was largely political and accepted that as a sufficient reason to assist. They realized that the project would be challenging and expensive, but it needed to be done in the interest of serving African nationalism and liberation of Southern Africa from white minority domination. China was indeed a ‘soul mate.’
After five years of negotiations, construction of the Tanzam Railway began in 1970 and was completed in 1975, two years ahead of schedule. The project cost about US $500 million (and 64 Chinese lives), making it the largest single foreign-aid project undertaken by the People’s Republic of China anywhere at that time.
Obama’s current ‘Partnership of Equals’ presumes that Africa will freely welcome Western companies to invest in the continent in open competition with the others, including the Chinese. According to the American President, US companies will ultimately prevail because they invest in local economies. That is vastly different from the Chinese who are only interested in exploiting African natural resources.
Obama’s comparisons are best tested against the South Africa’s experience which has been dominated by Western companies. In this regard, it is interesting to note in passing that Obama was originally driven into a political career precisely by a bid to defy wrongdoing by US companies in SA. His first political speech as a 19 year old college student sought to convince fellow Americans to push US companies to divest from SA because their investments and technology were used to support brutal apartheid system.
Yet, US business maintained the attitude of business as usual and actually neutralized 3rd world’s bid to isolate apartheid SA economically. It was only when the US imposed economic sanctions by the passage of the 1986 Comprehensive Congressional Anti-Apartheid Act that the apartheid regime started to take steps towards majority rule.
Obama has come a long way since the 1980s. As an innocent young student at Occidental College he was against the presence of American companies in SA. As the American President he was their spokesman during his 2013 African tour. What had changed?
What about long term legacy of Western businesses in SA? It is almost a contradiction in terms that SA is the biggest economy in Africa and yet the country remains horrifically poor in absolute and relative terms. Indeed, SA overtook Brazil in 2009 as the most skewed society in the world. How to manage the poverty and narrow the offensive wealth gap has created internal political tensions and ideological divisiveness.
The current wisdom is that the SA government must sustain national economic growth to avoid threats of unemployment and political instability. To do this effectively, the country must create suitable climate for foreign infusion of capital. The presumption here is that, foreign investments are needed for national economic growth. National growth and foreign investments are either the same man or two men in alliance.
Conversely, the leftist thinkers see the stay-the-course approach is defective. It encourages economic management of the economy by outsiders, and the profits are taken out of the country. This fact deepens and perpetuates local poverty. Additionally, the stay-the-course attitude encourages arrogance of foreign managers and facilitates traditional economic marginalization of black citizens. It is even suggested that the August 2012 Marikana Massacre where scores of miners were gunned down by the police in broad daylight was a manifestation of these built-in contradictions.
It is the view of the thinkers of left orientation that the SA government needs to take control of the commanding heights of the economy, namely, nationalizing the mines and white-owned land. By so-doing, the government will capture the necessary financial resources and redistribute the national wealth more equitably. This is said to be the most effective way to blunt the offensive inequality of wealth between white haves and black have-nots.
The concept of nationalization in SA appeals more widely than it is ordinarily acknowledged. It attracts in part because it is seen as an intrinsically valid approach to remedy problems associated with poverty. Further, it feeds into the persuasive thinking that, given what South Africans went through to dismantle apartheid, everyone should be able to come to the party. Significantly also, the notion of nationalization is appealing because it contains a dose of anti-white sentiments. Racial undercurrent remains a powerful force in SA body politic.
Surprisingly, aversion to excessive white wealth in an endless sea of black poverty has spread to the moderate sections of the society. Two years ago, Archbishop Desmond Tutu raised many eyebrows by proposing imposition of a white wealth tax to speed up South Africa’s economic transformation. Tutu is hardly a firebrand radical.
The world-renowned Professor Ali Mazrui had lamented earlier that in 1994 Blacks of SA got a bad deal to the extent that abolishment of apartheid excluded economic concessions for them. In his logic, the white man said to the Black man, ‘You take the crown, we will keep the jewels.’ In this manner, economic inequality was entrenched by consent.
Four years later, Thabo Mbeki was the country’s Deputy President. He noted that, regrettably, SA had continued to evolve into two nations in one: one white and rich and the other black and poor. Mbeki knew full well that black rule had inherited a deeply fragment society as a legacy derived from historical Western economic penetration of his country. Other SA thinkers share this view.
On balance, China’s character reference projects an entirely different image. In Sino-African relations, there has been space for the heart; the Chinese have reached out for the soul of Africa and Africans have responded positively. Tanzam Railroad attests to this claim. It is an 1860 kilometers long remarkable piece of engineering with 10 kilometers of tunnels and 300 bridges. Africans worked shoulder to shoulder with 50, 000 Chinese engineers and technicians to build it. It was a spectacular show of friendly cooperation between China and Africa. The US cannot come anywhere close to topping those sentiments. Indeed, Sino-African friendship is currently a major worry of the West.
It is extravagantly bold to think, as Barack Obama seems to, that SA would accept US companies to re-enter its political economy without relevant screening of character references. Obama’s ‘partnership of equals’ needs to revisit the drawing board. After all, American multinationals continue to resist paying reparations for apartheid victims who were wrongly injured.
**James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus) and an independent writer. He is based in South Africa. Views expressed in the blog Global Africa are his.
Goree Island, Barack Obama and Apology for Slavery
July 11, 2013 | 0 Comments
By James N. Kariuki*
In his initial run for US presidency, Barack Obama had difficulties connecting with the African-American constituency. Firstly, Hillary Clinton was a formidable political rival who had a reasonable claim on the black vote. After all, it was not so long ago that Black Americans glorified her white husband, Bill Clinton, as their first black President.
Additionally, to the African-Americans, Obama was not black enough sentimentally and in experience to be US president. Granted, his father was Kenyan but his mother was white and he was raised by the mother’s white family. He grew up in Hawaii which is hardly known for its black attributes. Finally, there was not a single person in the Obama’s family tree who had experienced slavery. How could Obama understand the needs and aspirations of African-Americans?
Educationally Obama, shot like a rocket from Hawaii to Occidental College, a small private college in Los Angles. He then proceeded to the prestigious Ivy League orbit of Columbia and Harvard Universities. It is while he was at Occidental College that he gave his first political speech at 19 on the ugliness of apartheid in South Africa.
Obama’s educational trajectory was far removed from, if not alien to, that of a typical black child in America; it was privileged. Despite all that, the African-American community voted overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008, perhaps blinded by sentiments of ‘ebony kinship.’ But it was not long before blacks, including Africans, were musing, ‘would we have been better off if Hillary Clinton had become President?’
That question implied that Obama was seen as failing the black world; he was not delivering. Black people had boosted him into the Promised Land, but he was not distributing the manna. For the African-Americans, the ultimate failing grade was obtained in Africa in 2013, at the recent Goree Island during Obama’s first official visit to the continent.
For Black Americans, Goree Island remains an important symbol of slavery and slave trade. It was here that African captives were loaded into slave-ships for the fateful and inhumane trip across the Atlantic bound for the New World. Upon arrival, they entered a life of permanent bondage and servitude. It was here that the slaves were forced through the door-of-no-return and had one final glimpse of the continent of their birth.
It is here too that few contemporary African-Americans are often unable to hold back tears as they relive moments of deep sorrow, over man’s inhumanity to fellow man.
It was during his March-April 1998 visit to Goree Island that former President Bill Clinton wept in grief and nearly apologized for America’s role in slave trade. But he did not apologize. It was here in 2003 that another former President, George W. Bush, gave a moving speech on the evils of slavery, one of his most sensitive public statements, ever. On this occasion Bush classified slavery and slave trade as “one of the biggest crimes in history.” He outdid former President John Adams who once dubbed slavery as “an evil of colossal magnitude.”
From Obama’s visit to Goree Island in 2013, nothing has been forthcoming other than a presidential statement than it was a “powerful moment.” In more ways than one, in visiting Africa, Obama walked in the shadows of his presidential predecessors who in any case have done much more for Africa. Was the black world justified in expecting more from one of their own?
During his first US presidential campaign, Barack Obama was asked for his thoughts on the issue of Black reparations. To him, the best that America could do to compensate its African-American citizens was to provide better inner city schools. This answer was a coded response that black Americans’ socio-economic ‘advancement’ had to be individually earned. Presumably, African-Americans should not rock the boat delving into slavery; they should let bygones be bygones.
That was a rehearsed political response for a racially-mixed American audience. It was also an early warning that Obama considered himself a typical American without attachments and special obligations to any segments of the society. Neither Global Africans nor Africans-Americans had a claim on him as US president. He steadfastly adhered to that doctrine for his entire first term.
Now Obama is half a year into his second term. Yet, we still do not know for sure, his stand on the question of reparations for Black Americans, a claim made against staggering historical abuse especially relative to slavery. Yet, in this broad sense, reparations are indeed relevant in the American experience.
Obama is known to cite Dr. Martin Luther King’s statement that “the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.” Presumably, in situations where a definable group has absorbed ‘collective injury’ from another, historical wisdom has been to amend the wrongs by paying restitution. The first step in this ‘arc of history’ is to acknowledge wrongdoing; to issue an apology.
The most famous case is, of course, that of the Jews in the holocaust. Post-World War II Germany has paid dearly to the Jewish people and the state of Israel.
Another case was that of Japanese wrongful relocation and internment by the Roosevelt administration during World War II. In December 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. US citizens feared another attack and pressured President Franklin Roosevelt to take pre-emptive action against Japanese descendants on the US West Coast.
In February 1942, Roosevelt signed an Executive Order under which 120, 000 people of Japanese descent living along the US Pacific coast were removed from their homes and placed in War Relocation Camps. Presumably, people of Japanese extraction were prone to act as spies for Japan. Yet, during the entire war only ten people were ever convicted of spying for Japan, and these were all Caucasians.
Forty three years after World War II, the US Government succumbed to domestic pressure and agreed to pay restitutions in the amount of $1.2 billion to the affected Japanese families. That 1988 American decision was accompanied by a moving pledge: “The internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry was a great injustice, and it will never be repeated.”
Ten years after the American commendable decision, in February 2008, the Government of Australia extended full and unreserved apology to its Aborigine citizens for inflicting “profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.” That government did not mention reparations by name, but amends for that purpose have been forthcoming albeit slowly.
It is common knowledge that Blacks in Global Africa, particularly USA, have endured greater ‘collective injury’ than all the other groups combined. Yet, no reparations have ever been paid to them. Legal experts say that the default is due to the enormity of the issue; it is too overwhelming.
Even if he could, President Barack Obama is not obliged to rescue Africa; Americans voted him to power and he is answerable to them. However, slavery ultimately became mostly an American sin. More than other American presidents, Obama has an obligation as an African-American government official to apologize to fellow African-Americans for that wrongdoing. As a venue, Goree Island was a golden opportunity missed.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Kenya’s Ideological Twists
July 2, 2013 | 0 Comments
James N. Kariuki*
During the Cold War, Third World states aspired for ‘neutralism’ in their international relations. The world was then bipolar, divided ideologically between the West and the East. Neutralism was a Third World assertion that it wanted no part in the quarrel between the two global blocs. That thinking crystallized into the Non-Aligned Movement.
Post-colonial Kenya was reluctant to observe non-alignment provisions precisely because its first president, Jomo Kenyatta, was an Anglophile. There is a puzzling contradiction in that assertion. For decades, the same Kenyatta had spearheaded anti-British activities in colonial Kenya. Branding him a leader “unto darkness and death,” the British imprisoned Kenyatta allegedly for master-minding the Mau Mau rebellion.
Kenya became independent in 1963 and contradictions continued to emerge. Firstly, power was handed over to the same Kenyatta whom the British had dismissed as a devilish pervert. Secondly, Kenyatta surprisingly tilted the country to the West.
Outraged, Oginga Odinga objected bitterly to the pro-Western stance and proceeded to write a book, Not Yet Uhuru (1968.)Odinga was no ordinary citizen; he was a major anti-colonial nationalist and Kenya’s first Vice-President. While he was pro-socialism, Kenyatta coddled British capitalism. Conflicting ideologies were asserting themselves in new Kenya.
In the same year that Odinga’s book was published, Kenyatta released his own, Suffering without Bitterness. The book confirmed that Kenyatta was not anti-British; he was merely opposed to their racial discrimination. Indeed, he was even prepared to work with them. Accordingly, he turned Kenya into a towering ‘darling of the West’ in Eastern Africa and, for good measure, built himself into a capitalist tycoon of staggering proportions.
Kenyatta’s book reeked of forgive-and-forget sentiments towards former colonial detractors. The baton has now been passed to his son, Uhuru. That fact may push Kenya through yet another ideological twist.
Unlike his father, Uhuru’s worldview seems to be: we-may-suffer-but-we-will-not-necessarily-forget. In particular, he appears to have ‘reservations’ about the British for treating his father abusively. Additionally, Uhuru himself has already had an unhappy personal encounter with the West.
Uhuru is an ICC-inductee allegedly for orchestrating Kenya’s 2007-08 post-election violence. Coincidentally, the charges erupted simultaneously as the credibility of the ICC itself was declining. Critics lamented that engaged in ‘selective justice’ by targeting African leaders unduly. Yet, the greatest human rights violators are Western leaders and they, invariably, walk free.
In the agitated anti-ICC atmosphere, it appeared disingenuous that the West continued posturing as the guardians of human rights in Kenya. In the 2012-13 campaign it smacked of deviousness that Westerners masqueraded as the moral force to constantly remind Kenyans that the Uhuru ticket was comprised of ICC-inductees, unworthy of the presidency.
Clearly, the West believed that their Kenyan interest were safer if left under the care of Raila Odinga, Uhuru’s principal opponent. Once again ideological anomalies were rearing their heads in Kenya’s brief history. At independence Uhuru’s father, Jomo Kenyatta, was pro-capitalist West. Raila’s father, Oginga Odinga, was distinctly socialism-inclined and pro-East. Half a century later, the sons’ ideological persuasions were reversed.
Discrediting Uhuru’s candidacy by the West has revived a public sentiment that, for Kenyans to align themselves too closely to external powers, is ill-advised. In this instance, the West misread Kenya, persisting to view it as a prime candidate for foreign aid. Accordingly, Kenyans should behave as ‘deserving poor.’ Voting for ICC-inductees into power is alien to the notion of deserving poor.
Yet, Kenyans have abandoned the ‘deserving poor’ status. To them, Kenya is not a ‘failing state’ with a begging bowl looking for aid. Theirs is a country pregnant with economic potential and they are resolved to disembark from aid and engage in trade. After all, Kenya possesses bargaining power; it is East Africa’s business hub, one of Africa’s most connected nations. That self-confidence has been buttressed by discovery of oil and gas reserves.
Thus Kenya finds itself in a world where it is as equally sought after as it is a suitor. Calling shots is no longer an exclusive prerogative of the West. This realization has prompted a Western journalist to warn that the West “might find it is not missed as it once might have been.”
Indeed, Kenyan strategic thinkers have noted with interest that a mutually beneficial Sino-Kenya interaction has quietly evolved in the past decade with positive impact on the Kenyan economy. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta is probably turning over in his grave that the Uhuru’s administration is urged to double its efforts in building on that relationship. China is eagerly poised to undertake the challenge.
It would be the ultimate ideological anomaly if Uhuru consolidates the current surge of nationalism and tilts the country East. That would mean going a whole cycle to negate daddy Kenyatta’s legacy of turning Kenya West half a century ago. Do Kenyans trust the Chinese more or do they now trust the West less?
*James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus) and an independent writer. He is based in South Africa. Views expressed in the blog Global Africa are his.
Nelson Mandela: the Man and His Legacy
July 2, 2013 | 0 Comments
*James N. Kariuki
“If a man doesn’t have a job or income, he has neither life nor liberty… He merely exists.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
The image of Nelson Mandela was largely shaped by his three decades of imprisonment for daring to challenge apartheid. While he sat in an apartheid cell, his struggle was continued by his foot soldiers in South Africa and beyond.
Many continental Africans learned about the agonies of SA and Mandela, not from South Africans, but from Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere who also detested apartheid-SA for condemning its black citizens into refugees in their own country. Conceivably, Nyerere did more to publicize the inhumanity of apartheid around the world than any of his contemporaries. This was until black South Africans could dispatch their own emissaries abroad.
Julius Nyerere survived long enough to relish first-hand a democratic SA and shake hands with Nelson Mandela as a free man. Meanwhile, in his lifetime, the anti-apartheid mission to which Nyerere had also dedicated himself and his country was embraced by continental Africa. Ghana had come to know and care deeply about the inhumanity of apartheid; so did Nigeria and others. They all swore to its demolition sooner than later.
In Africa, Europe, US and even the United Nations apartheid came to be known as a monster of un-freedom, an evil and racially oppressive system. The outside world did not know many details about the horrors of racist SA; apartheid shielded its ugly face from public view the best it could. Unwittingly, continental Africa also came to feed into that enigma by endorsing a policy of isolation of pariah SA from the outside world as a form of punishment.
Inevitably, Mandela became the most eloquent face of diabolical SA under apartheid, the ultimate symbol of victimhood for black people. His image gave life to the agonies of black folk in SA, Africa, and everywhere. Almost every black child in London, Harlem-New York, Southside-Chicago, Watts in Los Angeles, Havana etc knew the name of Mandela. There were calls everywhere to free Mandela, code words for ‘dismantle apartheid.’
When Mandela was finally released from prison in 1990, the entire world held its breath. Most of it expected a feisty, angry, and vengeful man. But the newest prison graduate stunned mankind by declaring publicly that his intention was to build a new SA for all those who lived in it. In quest for a ‘rainbow nation,’ Mandela went to great lengths to comfort his former tormentors. He was serious; he was not playing politics about racial forgiveness and reconciliation.
To substantiate the spirit of suffering without bitterness, Mandela resorted to potent symbolic gestures. Among others, he donned a green jersey of the SA national rugby team and attended the 1995 Rugby World Cup final. That simple act charmed and thrilled millions of Afrikaner rugby enthusiasts. Until then, South African rugby was by tradition a preserve of the whites while soccer was a blacks’ domain.
A year earlier, in May 1994, Mandela had startled friend and foe alike by inviting his prison warden to his presidential inauguration. But it was in August 1995 that many black South Africans felt that Mandela went too far by having tea with Betsie Verwoerd, the unrepentant wife of the main architect of apartheid.
Detractors objected to what to them appeared like appeasement on Mandela’s part to the former perpetrators of apartheid. But admirers saw that generosity of spirit as what made Mandela unique, a global icon. Some even stood prepared to confer sainthood upon him. Inside SA, Mandela’s majestic presence and the force of his personality were seen as the ‘Madiba magic.’ He was truly the ultimate humble giant.
It is commonly accepted that Nelson Mandela delivered convincingly to all South Africans a peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy. On the other hand, an undercurrent of thought exists that Madiba accepted a bad deal for black South Africans; economically they were left on the outside. Democratic freedom was fine but, it was not enough without removing the shackles of economic deprivation for the majority blacks. As distinguished Professor Ali Mazrui once noted, a Faustian deal was struck in 1994: “the Whites said to the Blacks, ‘take the Crown and we will keep the Jewels.’” As racial apartheid was outlawed, economic apartheid was entrenched.
Mandela was mindful that economic apartheid remained intact, that post-apartheid SA was a society of excessive white wealth in an endless sea of black poverty. As he explained later, this was not an accident, a case of oversight or a quest for personal glory. Rather, the surrounding circumstances compelled him to concede to the dictum of his Ghanaian predecessor, Kwame Nkrumah, who once said, “Seek ye first the political kingdom and all else shall be added unto it.”
Mandela followed a well-considered strategy. He was aware that, in a racially and economically divided SA, a sudden nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy (i.e. land and mining) was likely to explode into bloodshed and flight of white skills and capital. Post-apartheid SA could barely endure either, let alone both. Mandela thinking was driven, not by ‘sentimental fancies’, but by practical imperatives of a nation’s survival.
Mandela did bring political kingdom to SA, but fusing economic equality into it has turned out to be difficult. Two decades after demolition of political apartheid, Black SA remains horrifically poor in absolute and relative terms. Indeed in 2009, the country sidelined Brazil as the most skewed society in the world. How to close this gap between the white haves and black have-nots, how to rectify this politically explosive lopsidedness, has been the most pressing challenge in post-apartheid politics.
Post-Mandela SA remains a nation divided; a viable and united SA is still a dream deferred, a work in progress. Phase one of political freedom is indeed in place, thanks to Nelson Mandela. Step two requires injecting economic freedom for all into it; fusing what former President Thabo Mbeki once called South Africa’s two-nations into one. This is a more difficult challenge than defying apartheid, one that requires inviting to the table more than just a single Mandela. The starting point must be that each of the existing two SA nation-states accepts that it is to its interest that a merger occurs.
*James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus) and an independent writer. He is based in South Africa. Views expressed in the blog Global Africa are his.
Microsoft’s Offer and Risk Factor for Kenya
June 25, 2013 | 0 Comments
By James N. Kariuki*
Seven months ago, Kenya banned importation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) foods because of their potential risks to public health. That move sparked a fierce war of words between local anti-GMO activists and their pro-GMO rivals. The Government stood firm and has so far prevailed over the influential and well-resourced pro-GMO faction. Has Kenya unwittingly walked into the volatile, global GMO controversy?
On June 4, 2013, Microsoft International pledged to support President Uhuru Kenyatta’s spirited project of free laptops for primary school pupils. At that stage of the game the GMO issue probably did not arise; Kenyans had moved on to new frontiers. But, had we really managed to sneak past the GMO issue?
Last year Kenya’s anti-GMO crusade was spearheaded by Beth Mugo as the Minister of Public Health and Sanitation. This year, Uhuru Kenyatta is the torchbearer for the computer-skills quest. Uhuru is now Kenya’s Head of State and he conceived and articulated the free computer skills idea as his 2013 campaign pledge.
Coincidentally, Uhuru and Beth are first cousins. Their point of convergence is Jomo Kenyatta, father of the nation! Could computer skills and GMO issue drive a wedge between two of Mzee Kenyatta’s public offspring? It gets more involved: computers and GMOs are also akin.
The Microsoft International’s gift to Kenya was in form of training the trainers to implement the computer-to-schools programme by January 2014. That attractive offer was conveyed to Uhuru by Jean-Philippe Courtois, President of Microsoft International. Courtois’ official assignment is to guide global sales, marketing and services everywhere outside the US and Canada.
The GMO issue was probably never mentioned when computer skills offer was discussed. In any case, what Kenyan would resist the appetite to acquire computer skills for Kenyan youth from Microsoft, the mother of computer know-how? After all, what matters in contemporary world is not what you own; it is what you know. What do GMOs have to do with computers anyway?
On reflection, enough connectedness crops up to trigger alarm. Microsoft International is a subsidiary of US-based giant computer multinational (MNC), Microsoft Corporation. Ultimately, Courtois reports to the Chairman of Microsoft Corporation, Bill Gates. To service his $1.5 million annual income, Courtois must peddle Gate’s will.
The world knows Bill Gates as a computer wizard and the richest man in the world, but he more than that. He is deeply involved in GMOs; indeed he is now a major shareholder in the world’s biggest biotech MNC, Monsanto Company. Additionally, Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundation underwrites numerous GMO projects in Africa, including Nairobi-based Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA.) For all practical purposes, he is the face of the GMO universe. GMOs and computers converge on Bill Gates.
GMO enthusiasts are said to envision a GMO world-without-borders. Hence, the obsession to control food production everywhere in quest for the world dominance which that would imply. For the same reason, Monsanto seeks to own seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and food markets worldwide. Meanwhile, the company is hell-bent on destroying food competition around the world, including its American home base.
Most unsettling of the GMO drive is that Barack Obama is now squarely part of it and he has sucked Africa into it. In May 2012, the American President launched the New Alliance for Food and Nutrition Security (NAFNS), ostensibly to save sub-Sahara Africa from hunger in a decade.
Dissenters objected loudly and clearly. They accused Obama of opening up Africa for domination by ruthless American multinationals and pushing controversial GMOs down their throats, literally. Suggestions of “saving” the continent were a smoke-screen; MNCs are profit seekers not NGOs. They are neither equipped nor inclined to engage in humanitarianism, least of all in Africa.
Imagine a ‘misunderstanding’ arising over Kenya’s current GMO policy. Suppose, for example, that it is Bill Gate’s will is to have Kenya’s 2012 anti-GMO importation decision revoked. The opponents would be the Government of Kenya plus a few local anti-GMO voices. The supporters would be Monsanto, Microsoft Corporation, Microsoft International, AGRA, NAFNS and local GMO-enthusiasts. In addition to their deep pockets, the GMO-believers would also have the White House on their side. This would be a genuine David versus Goliath confrontation.
For several years, the pro-GMO forces have had their heydays. But anti-GMO voices, principally the US Organic Consumers Association, have recently also gathered steam. They are angry and have vowed to squash Monsanto to oblivion.
The above is the complex-mix in the sealed package that Courtois presented to Uhuru on June 4, 2013. It would be reckless to underestimate the might of the heartless global corporate capitalist system behind it, its power to seduce and to corrupt. Meanwhile, it is well to remember the American unveiled threat to Kenyans in the last election: choices have consequences.
*James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (emeritus) and an independent writer. He is based in South Africa. The views expressed in the blog Global Africa are his.
The Mau Mau Compensations in Historical Context
June 18, 2013 | 0 Comments
James N. Kariuki*
On June 6, 2013 the British Government pledged to make amends to Mau Mau survivors who had been brutally victimized by the British colonial authorities during Kenya’s war of independence.
The offered financial compensations were by no means staggering but the wording of regrets for the wrongdoing was refreshing for its sincerity. The forthrightness of the exercise is a relief to the victims and adds significantly to the acts’ historical implications.
Firstly, the moment that the British Foreign Secretary William Hague stood before Parliament and regretted that horrid and excessive abuses had taken place in colonial Kenya, the Mau Mau freedom fighters ceased to be ‘terrorists’ and became nationalists. History books need to be edited.
More broadly, Hague’s words vindicated the claim that historically, the wheels of justice move slowly but they tend to move towards greater justice.
It has taken Britain half a century to accept culpability for the Mau Mau excesses. Concurrently, another anti-colonial war raged in Algeria. The brutality in the Algerian War was so horrendous that, to this day, Algerians find it practically impossible to forgive their former colonizer.
A hint of regrets would probably ease the intense anger but the French too still bulk at the suggestion of an apology, much less of compensation. After all, the Algerian War nearly tore apart metropolitan France itself. Hard feelings persist.
Algerian War notwithstanding, however, in situations where a definable group has absorbed ‘collective injury’ from another, historical tradition has been to amend the wrongs by paying restitution. This has been said before in this blog, but it is probably worth repeating.
The most famous case is, of course, that of the Jews and the holocaust experience. Post-World War II Germany has faithfully made amends to the Jewish people and the state of Israel.
A less publicized tragedy is that of wrongful US internment of people of Japanese extraction by the Roosevelt administration during World War II. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Americans feared another assault was forthcoming and pressured President Franklin Roosevelt to take pre-emptive action against Japanese descendents in the US.
In February 1942, Roosevelt signed an Executive Order authorizing 120, 000 people of Japanese descent on the US West Coast to be placed in War Relocation Camps. Presumably, Japanese descendants were more likely to spy for Japan. To the dismay of historians, no Japanese descendant was ever convicted in the US for spying for Japan.
Forty three years after World War II, the US Government resolved to pay restitutions in the amount of $1.2 billion to the affected Japanese-American families. The 1988 decision was accompanied by a moving pledge: “The internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry was a great injustice, and it will never be repeated.”
Two decades after the American historic decision, the Australian Government issued an unreserved apology to its Aborigine citizens for historical wrongful treatment, for “the “laws and policies that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.”
The Australian Government fell short of mentioning reparations for the Aborigines, but amends for that purpose have been slowly coming.
History shows that Africans and their descendants have endured greater ‘collective injury’ than all the other groups combined. Yet, until the mau mau case in June, no reparations have ever been paid to them. Legal scholars insist that this is indeed ‘justice-delayed’ due to the enormity of the Africans’ case; it is too overwhelming.
The matter of apartheid victims is exceptional; it is indeed smaller and more manageable. As a legal precedent, it could easily reverberate to the entire Global Africa. But restitutions have not been forthcoming, partly because the post-apartheid government of President Thabo Mbeki once resisted the idea of compensation decided upon outside South Africa. Allegedly, such extra-territorial decisions would infringe upon South Africa’s sovereignty. Bishop Desmond Tutu disagreed with that logic.
To-date, only a single apartheid case has had limited success. Last year, General Motors, the American automobile company, agreed to an out of court settlement in which it would pay apartheid claimants. The payments were nominal but they were a back-door admission of liability for past racial-determined wrongdoing.
The USA bears a huge stigma regarding slavery and historical mistreatment of its black citizens. Politically, Barack Obama is not obliged to come to the rescue Africa; Americans voted him into office and he is answerable to them.
However, slavery was ultimately entrenched largely as an American domestic sin and political Obama has a moral responsibility to apologize to his fellow African-Americans for that wrongdoing. That alone is an ideal opportunity to place the first US black president in his rightful place in history for one act of kindness. After all, his presidency is itself an affirmation of history moving towards greater justice
Slavery was also a global sin of the Western world against Africans and their descendants. As the leader of the ‘Free World,’ Obama should take a hint from the British action regarding Kenya’s mau mau and apologize to the entire Global Africa in the name of the USA. That would be a mark of statesmanship.
** *James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (emeritus) and an independent writer. He is based in South Africa. The views expressed in the blog Global Africa are his.
Why Is Barack Obama Skipping Kenya in His African Trip?
June 5, 2013 | 0 Comments
By James N. Kariuki*
In less than a month, US President Obama will undertake his first extended visit to Africa. Amazingly, the tour excludes Kenya. This is puzzling since Kenya is Obama’s ancestral homeland. Even fellow Americans are wondering: why would Obama bypass his ‘old country?’
The intrigue dissipates when viewed through the prism of Kenya’s recent national election. When the votes were finally cast at the end of that process it was the West, especially the US and Britain that was mystified that Uhuru Kenyatta emerged victorious over their candidate of choice, Raila Odinga. Is the planned omission of Kenya in Obama’s itinerary a form of simple-minded revenge?
This seems to be the case when it is considered that fighting terrorism is a critical priority in US foreign policy. In Eastern Africa, Kenya has been central to counter-terrorism. In this sense, Kenya and the US have a shared interest in tackling a core issue to both. Why would the US president bypass the most prominent ally in the region? It is indeed tempting to believe that Obama’s ill-advised strategy may have nothing to do with US national interests. Is it a case of personal vendetta?
Uhuru and his deputy, William Ruto, are ICC-inductees allegedly for orchestrating Kenya’s 2007-08 post-election violence. But these charges erupted as the credibility of the ICC itself was on decline. There were ‘loud whispers’ that the court targeted African leaders disproportionately. Yet, the greatest human rights enemies were Western leaders and they, invariably, walked free.
Barack Obama himself is considered a case in point. Under his personal watch, thousands of innocent people have been killed by unmanned drones in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The ICC has never even pretended to indict him. But the sins of US George Bush and Britain’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in the Iraq War were more relevant. To-date, thousands of innocent Iranians have died due to Western belligerence on ‘cooked-up’ claims. The ICC has never gone after the perpetrators.
Sensitive questions thus arose: Has the ICC become a neo-colonial tool of the West? Why the selective justice? Unfortunately, for the court, this view was championed by none other than the continental African Union. The hunter had suddenly become the hunted; the ICC itself was on trial in public opinion.
In this anti-ICC atmosphere, it appeared contrived that the West continued to pose as the guardians of human rights in Kenya. In the 2012-13 campaign in particular, the British and Americans shamelessly masqueraded as the moral force to constantly remind Kenyan voters that Uhuru and his running-mate were ICC-inductees, unworthy of the presidency.
To emphasize the point, Britain declared that in the unlikely event that Uhuru won the elections, it would maintain only ‘essential contacts’ with his government. At that juncture the Uhuru’s Jubilee Alliance felt compelled to object bitterly and publicly to the “shadowy, suspicious and rather animated involvement of the British High Commissioner in Kenya’s election.”
Lest it is forgotten, the US is not a signatory to the ICC. Yet, the Americans went beyond subtle hints by issuing a thinly-veiled threat to the Kenyan voters: ‘choices have consequences.’ Implicit in the statement was that, if Kenyans voted the Uhuru-Ruto ticket to power, the Western powers would punish them.
In sum, the Uhuru-Ruto Alliance was denied the assumption of innocence until proven guilty, a legal doctrine that the West otherwise holds dear. Is by-passing Kenya in the forthcoming Obama visit one of the consequences to Kenyans for making the wrong choice in the 2013 election? Would Obama consider by-passing Kenya had Raila Odinga won the presidency?
Again, many Kenyans believe that Obama’s current dismissive attitude towards Kenya has nothing to do with the American vital interests; it is a personal vendetta against Kenyans for rejecting his preference, Raila Odinga, as their president. Is this nepotism, negative ethnicity or meddling on others’ domestic matters on the part of Barck Obama? The answer is in blowing in the wind.
What is known is the excessive lengths to which Obama went to boost Raila Odinga’s political chances in Kenya. These included financial, political and campaign support. Unfortunately, the attempts ultimately fell short.
Baba Kabwela has it that the ICC has been under immense Western pressure to prosecute Uhuru Kenyatta and his running-mate for no other reason than to remove them as obstacles to Odinga’s way to Kenya’s presidency. For this purpose, a three-pronged strategy was devised. As a bona fide ICC member, Britain would push the Indictment issue from the legal aspect. Meanwhile, the US would agitate for the same ICC matter in Kenya politically, using its weight as a respectable foreign donor and world’s superpower.
Finally, the strategy called upon Odinga to exploit the same ICC-issue from the home front. In his campaign logic, Kenyan voters would never choose ICC-criminals over the ‘clean’ self. Additionally, it would be impossible for Uhuru and Ruto to rule Kenya from The Hague. After a long and turbulent political career, it would finally be smooth sailing for Raila to the State House.
As the campaign wound down, polls showed that Kenya’s elections were indeed close. But Raila Odinga was not concerned. With all the weight of the Western powers on his side, he doubtlessly would win the election; “it wouldn’t even be close.”
The prediction was wrong on both counts. The tally was close—very close, but Raila was the loser. He and Barack Obama were understandably stunned and disappointed. Avoiding Kenya on the forthcoming Obama’s African trip is their way of pouting.
*James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (emeritus) and an independent writer. He is based in South Africa. The views expressed in the blog Global Africa are his.
US Afraid of Nuclear North Korea?
May 25, 2013 | 0 Comments
James N. Kariuki*
In recent months the world has been agitated over North Korea’s threats to unleash nuclear weapons upon the US and its Far East allies. But just as easily as the issue arose, it has now subsided. Yet, it raises fundamental questions: Is the US afraid of nuclear North Korea, a third-rate power that it is? If so, why?
US President George W. Bush first used the expression ‘axis of evil’ at the turn of the century to refer to Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
According to the Bush, those were the leading world’s rogue states characterized by absence of democracy at home, insatiable appetite for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and commitment to worldwide dispersal of terrorism. It was incumbent upon the ‘civilized world’ to restrain the pariah states. To Iraq, Iran and North Korea, they were ‘marked.’
Skeptics disagree, arguing that what bound Bush’s pariah states was a quest for retaliation for old injuries inflicted upon them by the US. What moved them was a deep longing for reprisal, an aspiration to inflict harm on American national interests everywhere.
Each of George Bush’s three members of axis-of-evil has had deep-seated grievances against the US. When Bush first used the expression in January 2002, America’s latest confrontation was against Iraq.
A decade earlier, George Bush senior had unleashed Operation Desert Storm, a brutal war of ‘unequals’ upon Iraq for invading Kuwait. Was it an adventure for oil or for democracy? Whatever the case, Iraq’s national pride was deeply bruised by the war.
Henceforth, Saddam Hussein’s subsequent appetite for WMD was probably whetted by more than a temptation to bully neighbors and counter Israeli regional military superiority. Conceivably, Saddam vowed to deter a repeat of the humiliation of the First Gulf War.
Today, it is public knowledge that the 2003 US invasion of Iraq by baby Bush and allies was not prompted by existence of WMD in Iraq; it was driven by a desire to incapacitate permanently revenge-driven and embittered Saddam Hussein. After all, he was poised to inflict harm on the USA.
A running feud has also existed between the US and Iran since 1953 when the CIA underwrote the overthrow of Iran’s nationalist and democratically-elected government of Mohammad Mossadeque. Relations between the two countries have ever since remained, at best, chilly.
Subsequent hostile encounters, and the US general support of Israel, have ultimately blended to make Iranians sufficiently angry to wish to incur harm upon their so-called ‘Great Satan.’ Hence, President Obama’s failure to persuade the Iranians to “unclench their fists.”
Finally, North Koreans too have had a prolonged grudge against the US which they hold responsible for the 1950’s division of their country into North and South Korea. Although the Korean War that led to that partitioning was undertaken in the name of the UN, it was executed and sustained by the US.
Nuclear weapons are unquestionably unacceptable tools of foreign policy given the scale of harm that they can inflict. Yet, it is disingenuous to suggest that nuclear proliferation per se determines reactions to it. It matters who does the possessing.
That value judgment entails consideration of additional factors relative to the possessor’s station in life: his race, ideology, wealth, religion, political stability and likelihood of unleashing nuclear power against ‘us or our benefactors.’ In a US-dominated world order, America is central to this equation.
South Africa was once a nuclear power but it was ‘coaxed’ to dismantle its entire arsenal ‘voluntarily,’ the only country ever to do so. Until the early 1990s, white-ruled SA was the world’s pariah state. Yet, as apartheid South Africa developed WMD the West turned a blind eye. Even though SA felt somewhat abandoned by the West, nobody expected white-ruled SA to target its nuclear missiles at Hawaii, Washington or New York.
The Western ‘blind eye syndrome’ changed at the demise of apartheid. While it had been tolerable for undemocratic, white-ruled SA to possess nuclear weapons, it was entirely ‘unthinkable’ for the same weapons to be handed over to a democratic Black government. Were the deadly weapons unsuitable for Blacks, Muslims and children under sixteen?
Barack Obama does not lose sleep over the huge nuclear stockpiles possessed by Britain, France and other so-called ‘legitimate’ nuclear powers. The Europeans have the technical capacity to inflict harm on the US but that possibility is not alarming; it is defused by a sense of ‘global fellowship.’
Russia and China can also inflict unacceptable damage upon the West generally and the US specifically. But, as current members of the nuclear-club-in-good-standing, they have acquired adequate credentials in the contemporary world order to acquiesce to it as it is.
Not so with North Korea. It is too much of an outsider to the global status quo. To the estranged state, Japan and South Korea are guilty by association with the head of the Western ‘monster,’ the USA. And the Obama regime is sufficiently realistic about the nuclear threat that the third-rate North Korea poses to put the world superpower’s military defenses on alert.
Barack Obama should abandon the current apartheid of global military technology on which the world’s nuclear club is based and retreat to his July 2008 logic. He then promised “to make the goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons a central element in our nuclear policy.”
*James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus) and an independent writer. He is based in South Africa.The views expressed in this blog are those of the author.
Africa’s New Global Opportunities: The Case of Kenya
May 13, 2013 | 0 Comments
By James N. Kariuki*
Last week Kenya’s newly-elected President, Uhuru Kenyatta, travelled to London at the invitation of the British Government. Officially, the purpose of the trip was to participate at a Somalia Summit, a subject of vital importance to both Kenya and Britain.
In all likelihood, Uhuru was skeptical about the trip. He was surely mindful that when his father visited the UK in 1962, he was pelted with rotten eggs by the British public, a show of contempt. After all, colonial authorities had dismissed daddy Kenyatta as a satanic pervert.
Uhuru went to London anyway. The Somalia issue was too critical to Kenya’s national interest to be bypassed. Additionally, Kenya-Britain relations had recently deteriorated; their improvement called for gestures of goodwill by both sides.
During the 2013 visit, no eggs were thrown but the British news media dubbed Uhuru with a hostile title, ‘Criminal President.’ The epithet obviously offended the Kenyan millions who had just voted Uhuru into office. Kenya’s social media was abuzz with objections to the British crudeness.
Was there a story behind this story?
Kenya became independent in 1963 and immediately displayed intrigues. Firstly, Jomo Kenyatta, the uncontested national leader, had always been at the forefront of the anti-colonial struggle. Yet, power was handed over to him, the man whom the British colonialists had categorized as a “leader unto darkness and death.” Secondly, Kenyatta surprisingly proceeded to tilt independent Kenya to the West, the former oppressor.
Soon thereafter, Kenyatta published a book, Suffering without Bitterness. That title, and the book itself, were a vivid affirmation that Kenyatta was an Anglophile poised to entrench Kenya as a prominent ‘darling of the West’ in Eastern Africa. Concurrently, he built himself into a capitalist tycoon of staggering proportions.
Kenyatta’s book reeked of forgive-and-forget sentiments towards the former colonial tormentors. Now the baton has been passed to his son, Uhuru, whose presidency may push Kenya to yet another paradoxical ideological orientation.
Uhuru’s worldview may be summed up as: we-may-forgive-but-we-will-not-necessarily-forget. Personally, he seems to harbor a deep mistrust of the British, perhaps because of how scornfully they treated his father in the colonial era. More to the point, Uhuru himself has had unpleasant encounters with the same West recently.
Uhuru is an ICC-inductee, accused of orchestrating Kenya’s 2007-08 post-election violence. Those charges emerged almost simultaneously as the credibility of the court itself started to decline on the grounds that it targeted African leaders excessively. Yet, the logic continued, Westerners were the greatest human rights violators and they were never indicted.
Had the ICC become a neo-colonial tool of the West? The hunter suddenly became the hunted; the ICC itself was on trial in world opinion. Tragically for the court, the campaign against it was championed by the continental African Union.
In this anti-ICC atmosphere it appeared strenuous that, in Kenya’s 2013 election campaign, Westerners posed as the ‘chosen’ moral crusaders to remind Kenyans that the Uhuru-ticket was composed of ICC-inductees, unworthy of the presidency. In short, Uhuru was portrayed as a liability to Kenyans.
For its part Britain decreed that, in the unlikely event that Uhuru won the elections, it would maintain only ‘essential contacts’ with his government. Uhuru was obviously offended by the pronouncement and his Jubilee Alliance felt compelled to protest of “shadowy, suspicious and rather animated involvement of the British High Commissioner in Kenya’s election.” The Americans also issued a poorly-veiled threat to the Kenyan voters that ‘choices have consequences.’
Clearly, Western powers were bent on withholding goodwill and friendship to a democratically-elected Uhuru-led government. In effect, Uhuru was denied presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
Conversely, the West was actively campaigning for Uhuru’s major political rival, Raila Odinga. Indeed, with the conspicuous Western support on his side, Raila was convinced that he would win the election; “it wouldn’t even be close.” He was wrong on both counts. He lost and the elections were close.
Kenyan voters were irritated by the Western meddling in their domestic political process. In the end, condemnation of Uhuru’s candidacy backfired, triggering Kenyans to support Uhuru in form of sympathy votes.
Attempts to discredit the Uhuru-Ruto candidacy strained relations between Kenya and Britain and left a bitter anti-West taste among Kenyans. Epithet of Uhuru as a ‘Criminal President’ by the British Sky News merely added salt to injury.
What caused the Kenya-British rift?
Regarding the ICC induction, the West saw it in purely legal terms. Uhuru had been indicted; he must face the law. Conversely, Kenyans saw it in context of local politics. Overwhelmingly they believe that, if Uhuru got involved in the post-elections violence at all, it was not a matter of premeditated murder; it was self-defense. Uhuru’s objective was to deter reckless human rights violations against the Kikuyu. Bravely, Uhuru resisted ethnic cleansing where the state had repeatedly failed. Kenyatta reinforced the principle of self-defense.
From this perspective Uhuru is a local hero, a leader who put himself in harm’s way in a bid to save his people from five-year cycles of senseless savagery. To many Kenyans Uhuru Kenyatta is not a villain; he is their favorite son and they said so in the March 2013 election. Neither the West nor the ICC can convince them otherwise.
In the broader sense, contemporary African thinkers insist that the West misreads the realities of current Kenya. It continues to see Kenya as a prime candidate for foreign aid. To maintain that status, Kenya must uphold its credentials of a “deserving poor.” Having an ICC-inductee as president violates good governance, a fundamental requirement for a “deserving poor.”
Yet, Kenyans have now departed from that view. To them, theirs is no longer a poverty-stricken country u-hauling a begging bowl in Western capitals in search for foreign aid. Kenya can no longer be subjected to the intrigues and manipulations of foreign aid. These Kenyans are psychologically eager to abandon foreign aid for trade. After all, Kenya possesses bargaining power. It is East Africa’s business hub and one of Africa’s most connected nations. Recent discovery of vast reserves of oil and gas have reinforced these views.
Finally, Kenya finds itself in a world order that offers other opportunities besides the West. In this setting, Kenya is as a much sought after lover as it is a suitor. Given these circumstances, calling shots in Kenya and Africa is no longer an exclusive domain of the West. To its credit, Britain has quickly realized and accepted that it needs Kenya just as much as Kenya needs it. It was against that thinking that Uhuru was invited to London in May 2013.
There was an element of urgency for Britain to act quickly because non-Western international presence is now “part of the fabric in today’s Kenya.” In particular, China makes no bones about its interest to engage in Kenya. And Uhuru is under considerable domestic pressure to give China a chance.
It would be truly paradoxical if Uhuru’s presidency consolidates the current surge of anti-Western nationalism in Kenya and tilts the country to the East. Should Kenya go East, Uhuru will negate his father’s legacy of turning the country West half a century ago. This could happen, not because Kenyans trust the Chinese more, but because they now trust the West less.
*James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus) and an independent writer. He Is based in South Africa.
Uhuru Kenyatta and Kenya’s New Posture in Global Politics
April 22, 2013 | 0 Comments
ByJames N. Kariuki*
Not so long ago Third World countries subscribed to the notion of non-alignment in their international relations. The world was then bipolar, divided ideologically between the West and the East. Non-alignment was an assertion that the Third World was not party to the quarrel between the two global blocs. That thinking was enshrined in what came to be known as the Non-Aligned Movement.
Post-colonial Kenya observed the provisions of non-alignment mostly in breach. That was so because the country’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, was at heart an Anglophile. This was ironic given that the same Kenyatta was the vanguard of anti-British colonial activities. Finally, Kenyatta was imprisoned allegedly because he master-minded the Mau Mau rebellion. The British dismissed him as a leader “unto darkness and death.”
Kenya became independent in 1963 and the country’s ironies continued. First, power was handed over to the same Kenyatta whom the British had branded a devilish pervert. Secondly, Kenyatta quickly tilted independent Kenya towards the West.
Outraged, Oginga Odinga objected bitterly and proceeded to write a book, Not Yet Uhuru (1968). Odinga was no ordinary citizen; he was a major anti-colonial nationalist and Kenyatta’s Vice-President. While he agitated for socialism, Kenyatta welcomed British capitalism. Odinga did not realize then that Kenyatta had fought against colonialism, not because he objected to the British socio-economic order, but because of racial discrimination that accompanied British presence.
In the same year that Odinga published his book, Kenyatta released his own, Suffering without Bitterness. That title emphasized that Kenyatta had nothing against the British; he was prepared to work with them. To affirm the point, he proceeded to turn Kenya into a major pro-British fort in Eastern Africa. For good measure, he also built himself into a capitalist tycoon of major proportions.
Kenyatta’s book reeked of forgive-and-forget sentiments towards his former detractors, the British. His son, Uhuru, has now become Kenya’s president which may push the country into the next major irony. Unlike his father, Uhuru seems inclined to the notion: we-may-forgive-but-we-will-not-necessarily-forget. And he does have a grudge against the West.
Uhuru Kenyatta has been inducted by the ICC as a contributor to Kenya’s 2007-08 post-election violence. Coincidentally, the charges erupted when the credibility of the ICC itself was declining in Africa on the grounds that it targeted African leaders. Yet, critics said, the greatest human rights offenders are Western leaders and, invariably, they walk free. Is the court a tool of the West? Unfortunately for the international court, this view was championed by none other than the African Union. Suddenly, the ICC itself was on trial in global public opinion.
In this anti-ICC atmosphere, it was suspiciously provocative that the West continued posturing as the guardians of human rights in Kenya. In the 2013 campaign, at least, it seemed reprehensible that Westerners became constant reminders that Uhuru and his running-mate were ICC inductees, unworthy of the presidency. Indeed, Uhuru’s Jubilee Alliance was compelled to object bitterly and publicly to “the shadowy, suspicious and rather animated involvement of the British High Commissioner in Kenya’s election.”
On their part, the Americans went past hints and issued a poorly-veiled threat to the Kenyan voters: ‘choices have consequences.’ Implicit in the statement was a resolve that Western powers would withhold friendship and goodwill to an Uhuru-led government. Similarly, Britain stated that, in the event that Uhuru won the elections, it would maintain only essential contacts with his government. For all practical purposes, the West denied Uhuru the assumption of innocence before proven guilty.
In effect, the Western powers were now campaigning for Uhuru’s major rival, Raila Odinga. For his part, Raila stated that he would win the election; it would not even be close. Kenyans took exception to the Westerners meddling in their domestic affairs. Condemnation of Uhuru’s candidacy backfired, prompting Kenyans’ impulse to give more votes to him. Sympathy votes flowed in abundance.
Regarding the ICC case, many Kenyans believe that Uhuru’s was not a matter of premeditated murder; it was an issue of self-defense. If he got involved in the post-elections’ violence at all he did so, not to harm innocent people, but in defense of reckless human rights violations by others against the Kikuyu. He bravely countered ethnic cleansing where the state had repeatedly failed to do so. Self-defense is an acceptable principle of the law, is it not?
Indeed to many Kenyans Uhuru is a hero, a leader who put himself in harm’s way in a bid to save his people from five-year cycles of senseless savagery. To millions of Kenyans, Uhuru Kenyatta is not a criminal; he is their favorite son. Neither the West nor the ICC can convince them otherwise.
Uhuru’s victory reflects a bewildering self-assertion in Africa, one reminiscent of the non-alignment movement. The popular mood during Kenya’s 2013 election was anti-Western; westerners felt mistrusted and unwanted. Most importantly, Uhuru’s Jubilee Alliance was triggered to protest publicly against Western political intrusion.
Western exploitation of the ICC indictments to discredit Uhuru’s candidacy has left bitter taste in Kenya. This reality has occasioned a public consciousness among Kenyans that to align too closely to the West is ill-advised. It would be the ultimate irony if Uhuru eventually tilts Kenya to the East. He would negate his father’s legacy of turning Kenya West. That is the stuff of history.
*James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus) and an independent writer. He is based in South Africa.The views expressed in this blog are those of the author.
Political Succession in Africa: Opponents versus Enemies
March 29, 2013 | 0 Comments
By James N. Kariuki*
Barack Obama’s first inauguration in January 2009 was by far more glorious than the one four years later. It captured the initial dramatic affirmation that America was sincerely loosening its grip on politics of racial hatred. To Africa, the same inauguration should have had an equally poignant message that political differences should not invariably degenerate into personal or ethnic hatred.
At the Obama’s first inauguration, bitter political rivals sat side by side united in their American-ness. The contest between Obama and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party’s nomination was bitter. Yet, despite her stunning defeat, Clinton sat immediately behind the new president at the inauguration. And yet this honorable act paled in comparison to Republican John McCain’s graciousness in his short concession-of-defeat speech two months earlier. Is such remarkable political sophistication worthy of Africa’s notice or emulation?
Philosophically, the US Republican Party does not have much to offer to the international community but, in context of American national the politics, it does play a significant role. For example, in the 1996 presidential campaign the Republican contender, Robert Dole, was urged by his campaign subordinates to make some unflattering remarks against his Democratic rival, Bill Clinton. To his eternal credit Dole declined, stating that Clinton was his opponent, not his enemy.
Those simple words were loaded with political wisdom and maturity. Bob Dole disagreed with Bill Clinton on almost every political issue. Yet, more fundamentally, he knew and understood that both were comrades-in-arms in a shared interest in America’s welfare. The same sentiments were clearly there when McCain conceded to Obama.
That was patriotism; it was what bound them together as Americans. In other words, Dole implied, it was important to be a Republican but it was more so that he, like Clinton, was American first and foremost.
In Africa, there is a prevailing tendency for presidential incumbents and contenders to view political differences as personal affronts. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe has repeatedly shown personal loathing for the country’s opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. Could it be the case that Kenya’s J.M. Kariuki lost his life in 1975 for questioning the moral authority of the country’s founding father, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta? What about Tom Mboya and Robert Ouko?
When public issues are personalized, visions of ‘national interests’ become blurred. Put another way, since African leaders have habitually fallen short of putting national visions above personal interests, they have betrayed the continent and their respective countries. This legacy is uncommon in the US experience.
In the American political history, Richard Nixon is remembered as the most ambitious politician at the presidential level. But this ambition was mitigated by national loyalty. In 1960, Nixon lost in the bid for US presidency against John Kennedy. Yet, the margin was so small that Republican advisors urged Nixon to demand a recount. Nixon dismissed the suggestion outright on the grounds that such a recount would have plunged the nation into a constitutional crisis.
While the so-called ‘ambitious’ Nixon could smell the pinnacle of power, he loathed the prospect of ripping his country apart constitutionally in the interest of his quest for personal power. His sense of being American left no room for distortion of national interests in pursuit of his ambitions. He thus made the honorable choice: my-country-before-my-ambitions.
It is true that in the years to come, Nixon ambitiousness brought his presidency to grief when he resigned the presidency in disgrace because of the Watergate Scandal of the 1970s. However, this does not minimize that his decision not to contest the 1960 election results was a measure of remarkable leadership and patriotism.
In Africa today, it is almost a fashionable trend to challenge election results. The ‘political disease’ first erupted in Angola’s 1992 national elections in form of what came to be known as the ‘Savimbi Syndrome,’ the claim that “either I win or the elections were not free and fair.” In his ambitions Jonas Savimbi had popularized the notion that, if he did not win the 1992 elections, the voting process was faulty. Question: if the election results were so clear even before the voting, why bother to vote at all?
Critics of the Savimbi Syndrome reject it because, inherently, elections presume that there will be losers and winners. Those who suggest otherwise merely are bent on destroying. Savimbi himself did lose the 1992 national elections and, sure enough, he plunged Angola into the next phase of its protracted civil war. Yet, the Savimbi Syndrome virus had slowly drifted North-East to Kenya.
Just before the 2007-08 elections, Raila Odinga visited South Africa and was asked about his prospects in the impeding elections. He stated on national television, “In the absence of rigging, I will win.” Odinga did not win. All he did was repeat his self-proclaimed prophesy that if he did not win, the elections were rigged. That is all it took to plunge Kenya into senseless violence that verged on a civil war.
Five years later, in 2013, Raila Odinga repeated his political forecasting, that he would win the presidency against Uhuru Kenyatta, that the election “wouldn’t even be close.” He was wrong on both counts: the elections were close and, again, he was the loser.
Once more, Raila Odinga has failed to accept principle that elections presume that there will be winners and losers and has challenged the announced election results in court. Meanwhile, he holds the nation at ransom: fulfill my ambitions or I will unleash disaster upon you.Raila Odinga has been a great political tactician but he has fallen short of becoming a genuinely patriotic Kenyan.
*James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus) and an independent writer. He is based in South Africa.The views expressed in this blog are those of the author.
Pan-Africanism and ‘Africa’s World War’
March 7, 2013 | 0 Comments
James N. Kariuki*
This tier of Pan-Africanism, otherwise known as continental pan-Africanism, got under way in 1945 in the British city of Manchester, when a small group of indigenous Africans met and collectively decided that European colonial domination of Africa had to come to an end. For the first time since its beginning in 1900, the Pan-African movement came under the stewardship of continental Africans.
Shortly after the Manchester Congress, the mau mau armed revolt was in full swing in Kenya. Its core message to the British colonizers was, “Give me liberty or give me death.” A decade thereafter, the British relinquished their grip on the East African country.
Six year earlier in West Africa, Kwame Nkrumah had emerged triumphant in the bid to free Ghana. Both Nkrumah and Kenya’s liberation leader, Jomo Kenyatta, had been sent off by the famous 9145 Manchester Pan-African Congress to ensure the demise of alien rule in their respective countries.
By 1960, the demands for independence in Africa became virtually a chorus. As a result of shared Pan-African sentiments, colonialism was on its deathbed; unstoppable winds of change were truly blowing across the continent.
These winds of change were not prompted exclusively by continental forces. Pan-African feelings rose sharply just about the same time in the African-American world, triggered in part by the death of Patrice Lumumba’s of the Congo. The African-Americans suspected that their own government had a hand in the assassination of the uncompromising but popular Congolese nationalist. For a while, overflowing outrage among them prompted the UN to close its doors to the public for security concerns.
Meanwhile, demands among African-Americans for their own civil rights escalated to heights unheard of before. Indeed, it was not long before black civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X became household names around the world. Almost without exception, these newly-found political stars in America declared their fellowship with African causes.
King was projected as a peace-loving, reasonable leader. Malcolm X, on the other hand was portrayed as radical and provocative. Yet, despite differences of strategy, their message was identical: that Black Americans wanted their civil rights and they wanted them immediately. They were no longer willing to wait.
Interestingly, by the early 1960s, African-Americans were citing Africans’ anti-colonial successes to inspire their own demands for equality and justice. “All Africa shall be free,” it was said, “before a black man in America can buy a cup of coffee.” Continental and universal tiers of Pan-Africanisms were fusing in the USA.
At independence, Africa tended to focus attention on the state, the trappings of which had been usurped by colonialism. African leaders were understandably excessively possessive of the security and inviolability of the state. On the other hand, perhaps by default, there was substantial neglect of human rights. Unsurprisingly, post-colonial Africa became the global symbol of war, disease, hunger and massive human suffering. These two extremes were captured in the continental organization that emerged, the OAU.
The Congo, which prompted global pan-Africanism of the early 1960s into action as a result of Lumumba’s death has remained a constant reminder of Africa’s colonial heritage and enduring human suffering.
Critics have tended to attribute the woes of post-colonial Africa to the OAU. Yet, it is well to remember that the organization had two mandatory purposes: to consolidate the ‘political kingdoms’ that had just been wrestled from the colonial powers and to expand anti-colonial successes all over the continent. On both these counts, the OAU was a classic success.
Winning freedom for South Africa was by far the greatest Pan-African challenge. The liberation movements from Southern Africa did most of the actual fighting in the bid to make the racially-controlled country ungovernable. But they did not act alone; they received support—political, moral and military, from the rest of Africa through the OAU and the Frontline States.
From Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and elsewhere, Africa spoke in one voice in declaring apartheid must go! What Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere once referred to as the ‘monster of un-freedom’ (apartheid South Africa) stood eyeball-to-eyeball against an entire continent. But the anti-apartheid support was derived from further afield in the pan-African world.
As the most politically influential black constituency outside Africa, the African-American community spoke out against apartheid. To them, condemning any black person anywhere for being born who he was, was to condemn black people everywhere for being who they were. They objected to that view. In practical terms, they pushed and saw the passage of the Comprehensive Congressional Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, despite the resistance of unsympathetic president, Ronald Reagan.
From the start the Anti-Apartheid Act was black-driven and it took years to galvanize bi-racial political support for it in the US Congress. But behold, ror all practical purposes, the passage of the Act was the kiss of death for apartheid.
In March 2005, another Pan-African conference of major historical symbolism was held in Jamaica. Its preoccupation was: now that Africa is virtually free from formal colonialism, what can global Africa do about its current problems of underdevelopment and marginalization? This was a ‘talk shop’ for the governments of global Africa to discuss the human rights of their people, not the security and rights of their states. Freed South Africa was a major participant of this event, indeed its major convener to celebrate ten years of its freedom.
The African Union was formed to attend to African human needs more so than the OAU had done. But the commitment quickly faced a challenge in the case of Libya’s invasion of 1911. On the face of it, the intention of Resolution 1973 of the UN Security Council was to protect Libya’s civilians from senseless slaughter by Mummer Kaddafi’s military forces. In this context, South Africa had no difficulty voting for the resolution of the Council. After all, South Africans had endured more than their share of human rights violations from various apartheid regimes.
However, in application Resolution 1973 turned into something different from enforcement of a mere no-fly zone in protection of innocent civilians. Before long it was clear that the adventure was actually an imperial ambition for the resources of the country in form of oil and gold. That ambition explained why the Western invaders preferred military action rather than dialogue. After all, their scheme required the removal of Mummer Khadafy, a regime change. Since the AU preferred dialogue to bullets, it was sidelined, bypassed and ignored by the militarily mighty.
Not so long ago, the Americans told the world that they would remove Saddam Hussein and rebuild a peaceful Iraq. That Iraq has so far been evasive. More recently, we were promised a peaceful post-Khadafy Libya. We have not seen it yet.
Post-colonial Congo has never known peace since its inception in 1960. Its curse has been its bottomless natural resources and the appetite that they whet. Now African leaders in the region, accompanied by the United Nations, African Union, European Union and United States have signed a peace framework that provides a starting point in the effort to end the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II. Perhaps this is the answer that has dodged the Congo, this sick African giant for so long.
Monsanto: A Repeat Offender
February 6, 2013 | 1 Comments
By James N. Kariuki*
On November 6, 2012, Californians voted on Proposition 37, a statewide initiative. Had it succeeded, it would have required labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The initiative was narrowly defeated at the polls, but it cost the big anti-labeling agribusinesses a whopping $47 million to campaign against it.
The California vote was a big issue but it was overshadowed by the bigger presidential election that took place concurrently. However two days later on November 8, 2012, the Kenya Government banned importation of genetically-engineered foods effective immediately, until their safety to humans was scientifically confirmed. Well-funded pro-GMO forces in Kenya were up in arms against the importation ban; but it is still in force.
In mid-January 2013, another food outcry erupted, this time in Europe. Irish food inspectors had uncovered in their supermarkets almost 30 percent horsemeat in beef burgers intended for human consumption. Further tests revealed that burger products elsewhere in the country had traces of horse and pig DNA.
The horsemeat issue in Britain triggered considerable public unease in South Africa which imports some foods from the United Kingdom. The issue slowly died down when SA’s food companies issued assurances that they were not involved in the British food scandal as they did not import any of the implicated foods.
Thousands of kilometers away from Kenya, Britain, SA, and the USA, the Catholic Medical Association of Nigeria (CMAN) was constantly busy nagging Nigeria’s President, Goodluck Jonathan, not to sign into law a proposed bill that would allow GMOs to be imported into the country.
According to the Association, such a move would have the potential of destroying the lives of Nigerians. The Association thus advised the Nigeria’s Federal Government not to allow introduction of GMO products into the country because, overall, uncertainties about their benefits have led to their rejection in Europe.
What is the link between these stories? Put simply, it is that people worldwide have become increasingly conscious and protective of what they ingest. Hence, the uproar in Ireland about horsemeat in their foods, public outcry in SA to the British meat contamination, Kenya’s ban on GMO importation, and Nigeria’s reluctance to allow importation of genetically-engineered foods. And, lest we forget, there was Prop 37 in California, USA, on food labeling.
When I first approached the Pan-African Vision to write for them, there was one clear proviso: to promote positive aspects of Africa. In my view, it is the best news of the 21st century that Africans have joined the rest of the world in opposition to food contamination, no matter how well concealed.
Today, public-interest news media is engaged in the never-ending debate over gun control. Those against uncontrolled private possession of firearms insist that, background checks must be conducted on applicants for gun ownership. Presumably, if an applicant has a criminal record, he is of suspicious character and, therefore, disqualifies from owning a firearm. In short, what you do today will haunt you later.
Why isn’t the same logic applied to businesses, especially the multinational corporations that touch upon human lives around the world? Should the global community not ensure that previous business offenders are restrained from roaming the world ravaging mankind? Some anti-GMO groups are now thinking in those terms regarding the US-based Monsanto Company.
Monsanto is the world’s biggest food-engineering and genetically modified seed company. In addition to being the leader of the contemporary agribusinesses, it also has the dubious distinction of owning the most repulsive history.
Monsanto’s history is one steeped with controversial products, deadly consequences; massive cover-ups political sleight of hand, and culminates as a modern day plague on humanity, a plague that is about to peak to biblical proportions.
The America author of this statement goes on to outline Monsanto’s anti-social activities which include contribution to building the atomic bomb. But that is another story.
More recently, Monsanto has been involved in manufacturing other hazardous chemicals including DDT, an artificial pesticide, which was banned in the US in 1972. Subsequently, the same Monsanto got into the act of manufacturing Agent Orange, a toxic defoliant herbicide used in the Vietnam War to kill jungle growth and destroy growing crops (food.) Contact with the defoliant substance contaminated Vietnamese people and US troops indiscriminately, earning itself the nickname, the Merchant of Death.
In the early 1980s, US victims of Agent Orange and their families brought a class-action suit against the producers of the lethal herbicides, companies that supplied the lethal substance for the Vietnam War. The applicants sought compensation for injuries suffered from exposure to toxic Agent Orange. An out of court settlement of $180 million was reached in May 1984. Monsanto was a defendant in the case but continued to refuse to accept culpability even after the settlement.
Remarkably, Monsanto’s reputation as a danger to life and environment is not a new phenomenon; it goes back to its early beginnings. From the late 1920s to the early 1970s, the company manufactured PCBs in Anniston, Alabama and left a gory story.
PCBs are man-made organic chemicals once used to prevent fire explosions in electrical equipments and other industrial applications. Originally, PCBs were considered a life-saver, but ultimately, they turned out to be more than that: a highly toxic product, causing birth defects and potentially carcinogenic.
In the four decades (1929-1971) that Monsanto manufactured PCBs, it had a monopoly in the US and made hefty profits. Yet, it routinely dumped dangerous toxic wastes into a creek and oozing open-pit landfills around Anniston. The dangers of those chemicals were withheld from the town’s residents.
The consequences of PCBs to the Anniston community were devastating. Over time, thousands of children developed cancer, cerebral palsy and other health complications directly linked to exposure to PCBs. When these health damages initially surfaced, there was a specter of an explosive political reaction when innuendos of racism were floated. Rumors had it that Monsanto’s intentions were genocidal because west Anniston was primarily a black community.
Genocidal claims cannot be substantiated. However, it is true that the health dangers associated with Monsanto’s toxic activities in Anniston were visible. More specifically, those dangers were known to Monsanto’s officialdom.
Back in 1966, Monsanto’s officials knew that “fish turned belly-up in ten seconds’ when submerged in Anniston’s creek water, spurting blood and shedding skin as if they were dunked in boiling water.” Subsequently, Monsanto’s files were uncovered clearly marked, “CONFIDENTIAL: Read, Learn and Destroy.”
Against this background a rhetorical question is posed:
If Monsanto hid what it knew about its toxic pollution for decades, what is the company hiding from the public now? This question seems particularly important to us as this powerful company asks the world to trust it with a worldwide, high-stakes gamble with environmental and human health consequences of its genetically modified foods.
Today, Monsanto has tentacles spread around the world, preaching the gospel of saving mankind from starvation. Yet, a quick background check reveals that the same company is a repeat offender against humanity everywhere. Critics are indeed justified in categorizing Monsanto as evil, unethical, poisonous and a killer. No wonder it has been dubbed a Modern Day Plague.
*James Kariuki is Professor of International Relations and a private consultant based in South Africa.The views expressed in this blog are his.
Julius Malema’s Legacy in Post-Apartheid South Africa
January 28, 2013 | 1 Comments
By James N.Kariuki*
A strange sense of loss lingers in reading South African newspapers and not spotting the name of Julius Malema mentioned at least once. It confirms the nagging suspicion that I once had, that the South African public would miss good ol’ Juju (Malema’s nickname) if he ever disappeared from the country’s public scene. Malema is no longer in South Africa’s public view; he vanished from the political screen a year ago.
The outside world may not know much of who Julius Malema is. He is not an old official or a sporting national hero.. Yet at one stage, Malema’s name was better known than that of South Africa’s president. So, who is this Malema?
Julius Malema is a political creation of the 2007 fall of South Africa’s former President Thabo Mbeki from power. As the newly-elect leader of the ANC Youth League, Malema became instrumental in Mbeki’s political ouster as the mouthpiece of the rising political star, Jacob Zuma. Malema was fully convinced of the correctness of Zuma’s takeover. Indeed he publicly declared that the youth of South Africa was prepared to die and kill for Zuma. That statement was heard around the world.
For nearly six years, Malema entertained, confounded, offended, puzzled and intrigued his national audience. Some found him offensive and threatening. To them, he was a reckless populist, an undisciplined and opportunistic demagogue.
To others, the same Malema was as a charming and inspirational leader, a clever and perceptive politician with a penetrating mind. He grasped what ordinary South Africans did not and told it ‘like it was’ with a cocky attitude of ‘I say what I like.’ Supporters would have walked to the end of the world with Julius, their charismatic hero.
Still others were gripped by Malema’s capability to jolt. He did not have the fire and inspiring ability of a Malcolm X or the humility and disarming intellect of Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere. But with Malema around, there never was a dull moment. He was indeed controversial and always told the truth as he saw it. For that, he was a newsmaker. For his frankness, he often got into trouble and ultimately came to grief.
In February 2012, Julius Malema was finally expelled from the ANC on the grounds of sawing division in the party. By that act alone, he was deprived of a national platform and international visibility. All that is heard of him now is his legal woes with the law.
A critical question arises. Malema is gone, thrown into political wilderness. In banishing him, was there a case of throwing out the baby with the dirty water? When all is said and done, did Malema have a valid message for SA? What is his lasting legacy to SA, a legacy that that transcend his rhetoric and shifting images?
There is little doubt that Malema did fuel an ideological split in the ANC. But he did not cause that divide; he merely unveiled and magnified it for all to see. The fissure between ANC conservatives and the radicals was there long before Malema, and it may remain there long after him. The ANC will ultimately have to come to grips with the fact of this divide.
Post-apartheid black SA remains horrifically poor in absolute and relative terms. Since 2009, the country has indeed overtaken Brazil as the most skewed society in the world. How to close the income inequality gap, rectify this politically explosive lop-sidedness, is where irreconcilable differences between Malema and his party bosses originated.
The left, championed by Malema for half a decade, is committed to the notion that an ANC government is duty-bound to nationalize the means of production such as mines and white-owned lands. By doing so, that government will capture the commanding heights of the economy and position itself where it can redistribute the national wealth more equitably. In that manner, it will be in a position to blunt the offensive and politically dangerous economic inequality of wealth between the white haves and the black have-nots.
The left thus rejects the conventional official wisdom that the first order of the day is for the government to sustain national economic growth to address such threats as unemployment and political instability. To the left, such superficial stay-the-course approach provides space for foreign investments which, ultimately, perpetuate poverty and encourage offensive arrogance of foreigners. Some critics have suggested that the August 16, 2012 Marikana Massacre is testimony to this perception.
In contemporary SA, the idea of land confiscation and nationalization of mines is popular and explosive. It appeals because it is widely believed to be an intrinsically valid method to address the issue of general and relative poverty. There exists a widespread view that, after what South Africans went through to dismantle apartheid, everybody should be able to come to the party. Secondly, it contains a dose of anti-white sentiments. Negative racial undercurrent remains a potent component of the country’s politics.
Thirdly COSATU, SA’s largest federation of unions, laments that the apartheid economy of exploitation remains intact. COSATU is the powerful partner in the ANC’s government of tripartite alliance. Will a time come when this vocal mega-labor federation starts to agitate for dismantling of the country’s economy?
Finally, aversion to excessive white wealth in an endless sea of poverty has slowly but surely seeped into the moderate circles. For one, Professor Ali Mazrui regrets that abolishment of apartheid excluded economic concessions to Blacks. In his own words, in 1994 the white man said to the Blacks, “You take the crown; we will keep the jewels.’ In that manner economic inequality was officially entrenched.
To mitigate the agony of economic ‘dream-deferred’, Malema’s political dream was to snatch back some of the ‘gold’ for himself and his black fellows. In this context, he can be forgiven for harboring drastic views; he is an angry young man in a hurry. But the complaint of economic ‘justice-delayed’ is slowly being echoed by less radical anti-apartheid champions.
In August 2011, Archbishop Desmond Tutu Emeritus, by no means a man of Malema’s ideological persuasion, raised eyebrows by calling for imposition of a tax on white wealth to speed up South Africa’s economic transformation.At the grassroots level, Malema’s so-called revolutionary agenda resonates as ‘conventional.’ Indeed, it has widespread appeal, perhaps strong enough to destabilize the country. Hence, the concern that SA’s political order is increasingly becoming susceptible to an Obama-type politician. Could a Malema reappear in a different guise?
**James N. Kariuki is a Professor of International Relations and an independent Consultant based in South Africa. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author.
US Owes Apology to Global Africa
January 24, 2013 | 0 Comments
By James N. Kariuki *
During the 2008 US presidential campaign, Barack Obama was asked for his thoughts on the issue of reparations. To him, the best that America could do to compensate its African-American citizens was to provide better inner city schools. This answer was a coded response that black Americans’ socio-economic ‘advancement’ had to be individually earned.
It was a soothing political response for an American audience. It was also an early warning that, Obama -considered himself an American first and foremost. Africa and Africans had no claim on him. When he was elected, Obama steadfastly adhered to that doctrine for his entire first term.
Now Obama is almost a week old into his second term. Yet, we still do not know for sure, his stand on the question of reparations for Global Africa, a claim made against historical abuse especially relative to slavery. Yet, in this broad sense, reparations are indeed both an American and a global issue.
In 1804 Haiti, the small island country, made history by undertaking a full-fledged slave revolt against the colonizing French. That revolution became the first successful strike against subjugation of Black people in the so-called the New World.
Haiti hit the world headlines again in 2003 by demanding that France paid $22 billion in restitutions for cash paid to French landowners in Haiti as a pre-condition for the island’s independence in 1825. This demand constituted the basis of major differences between the implicated slave-owning Western countries (especially the USA and France) and the incumbent President of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Aristide was accused of orchestrating the huge reparations demand and was ultimately banished out of his own country in 1994 by the same Western powers.
In 2004, South Africa celebrated its 10th anniversary of Black rule; in 1994 anti-apartheid forces had succeeded in dismantling ‘political’ racism in Africa. That revolution became the last successful strike against Blacks people’s overt subjugation worldwide. In racial terms, South Africa had finally concluded the racial liberation process launched by Haiti two hundred years earlier.
Affinity quickly solidified between the two ‘liberating’ nations. In January 2004, South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki, attended Haiti’s celebrations of its revolution, the only African Head of State to do so. Shortly thereafter, in March 2004, the Mbeki’s government granted political asylum to Aristide, the same President under whom Haiti had demanded a $20 billion payment of reparations from France in 2003. France was one of the world’s powers that had determined that Aristide had to leave his homeland in 2004 allegedly in the interest of Haiti’s political stability.
Critics have insisted that Aristide’s forced exile to South Africa was ultimately triggered by his stand on the issue of reparations. The US, and France in particular, were alarmed about the general political fall-out of such a public call. But the demand for French reparations had a ring of hollowness as we are tuned into thinking of Third World indebtedness. Was Aristide’s Haiti agitating for a re-visit to the fundamental question of who owes whom in the world?
South Africa was already caught in a storm of animated debate on this issue of debts owed. The persistent question was: should Black South Africans seek legal restitution from Western multinational companies that had benefited enormously from their exploitation during apartheid?
Opinions in South Africa on the issue varied vastly. One proposition, championed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, insisted that harmed Black South Africans were indeed entitled to seek legal restitution and, if found liable, the Western multinationals were duty-bound to make amends. Tutu was personally on record as a key witness in a case lodged in the USA in support of the injured black applicants.
However, Mbeki’s government differed urging that South Africans should let bygones be bygones. In particular, the Mbeki administration was averse to the notion of South African citizens seeking restitution by litigation in foreign countries. Indeed, that regime went as far as contacting the US Court that was preparing to hear the South Africans’ case, urging a dismissal. Jacob Zuma’s administration would reverse that position in the years to come.
For resisting the quest for restitution for apartheid’s victims during Mbeki’s era, the ANC government found itself in a collision course with Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Chairman of its Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Further, the government’s attitude was antithetical to the cause of its national guest from Global Africa, Haiti’s President Aristide. As noted, astute observers are convinced that Aristide had been reduced to an ‘asylum seeker’ precisely because of his stand on the issue of reparations.
In the issue of reparations, history was on the side of Bishop Desmond Tutu. In situations where a definable group has absorbed ‘collective injury’ from another tradition has been to amend the wrongs by paying restitution. The most famous case is, of course, that of the Jews in the holocaust. Post-World War II Germany has faithfully and openly made enormous amends to the Jewish people and the state of Israel.
There have been other notable instances such as the Japanese wrongful relocation and internment by the Roosevelt administration during World War II. In December 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. US citizens feared another attack and war hysteria gripped the country. Pressure mounted on President Franklin Roosevelt to take pre-emptive action against Japanese descendants living in the US.
In February 1942, Roosevelt signed an Executive Order under which120, 000 people of Japanese descent living along the US Pacific coast were removed from their homes and placed in internment camps known as War Relocation Camps. The order was justified against the claim that people of Japanese extraction were likely to act as spies for Japan. Yet, during the entire war only ten people were ever convicted of spying for Japan, and these were all Caucasians.
Other considerations made the apartheid-like internments painfully unreasonable. More than two thirds of those interned were American citizens and half of them were children. None had been accused of disloyalty to USA. Finally, within the internment program, there were instances where family members were separated and put in different camps. For all practical purposes, these internment camps were tantamount to incarceration in ‘concentration camps.’
Forty three years after World War II, the US Government succumbed to domestic political pressure and concurred to pay restitutions in the amount of $1.2 billion to the affected Japanese families The 1988 American decision on restitution was accompanied by a moving statement and a pledge:
“In remembering, it is important to come to grips with the past. No nation can fully understand itself or find its place in the world if it does not look with clear eyes at all the glories and disgraces of its past. We in the United States acknowledge such an injustice in our history. The internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry was a great injustice, and it will never be repeated.”
Ten years after the American commendable decision, in February 2008, the Government of Australia officially and publicly extended full and unreserved apology to its Aborigine citizens for historical wrongful treatment, for “the “laws and policies that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.” The Australian Government did not mentioned reparations for the Aborigines by name, but amends for the purpose have been coming, albeit grudgingly.
Fair-minded people would agree that Blacks in Global Africa have endured greater ‘collective injury’ than all the other groups combined. Yet, no reparations have ever been paid to them. Legal experts insist that this failure is due to the enormity of the Blacks’ issue; it is too overwhelming. The case of apartheid victims is manageable and that makes it a bigger issue than just South Africa. As a legal and moral precedent, it embraces the entire Global Africa.
Even if he could, President Barack Obama is not obliged to rescue Africa; Americans voted him into power and he is answerable to them. However, slavery was an American sin and I remain convinced that Obama has a presidential and personal responsibility to apologize to global Africa for that wrongdoing. That issue alone is an opportunity to place the first Black American president in his rightful place in history. Hopefully, Obama will not let the moment slide by.
*James N. Kariuki is a Professor of International Relations and an independent Consultant based in South Africa. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author.
Just Let Charles Taylor Go?
January 9, 2013 | 0 Comments
James N. Kariuki*
Ojukwu spearheaded Biafra in the 1967-1970 Nigerian Civil War. All told, the bloody secessionist struggle cost more than a million lives. Biafra lost the war and, to a large extent, Ojukwu was demonized outside Biafra as its heroic villain.
When the war finally ended after three agonizing years, Ojukwu fled into exile in the Ivory Coast. He probably feared that rugged Nigeria would follow him in hot pursuit as a war criminal. To deter other home-grown rebels, the reasoning continued, Nigeria may have been keen to throw Ojukwu in jail for life, or have him face a firing squad for a dramatic demonstration-effect. Whatever the case, the presumption was that Ojukwu’s life was in real danger.
But the Giant of Africa was not contemplating punitive acts. In a remarkable show of restraint, Nigeria merely issued a 1982 presidential pardon for Ojukwu. After thirteen years in exile, Colonel Ojukwu returned to Nigeria to a hero’s welcome. In time, he became an active politician in his motherland until his death in November 2011. Even his funeral was bestowed with honors of a national, very important person.
On the other hand, one of the most dramatic pieces of African-related news of the first half of the 21st century has been the guilty verdict against Liberia’s Charles Taylor by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Not far from Nigeria geographically and only two decades after the Biafra fiasco, another African political offender had emerged and has now been found guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes. By reputation, Taylor by far overshadows Ojukwu as the senseless, vicious Prime Evil of West Africa.
In both instances, Africa sought justice. In Nigeria, Ojukwu was a lucky recipient of ‘justice tempered with mercy’ in the interest of what Nigeria’s President, General Yakubu Gowon, called the ‘dawn of national reconciliation.’ But before May 2012 came around we virtually anticipated that, at the hands of the International Court of Justice at the Hague, Taylor was likely face prison time, a case of ‘justice without mercy.’
Nigeria’s ultimate handling of Ojukwu’s wrongdoing was driven by a desire for national reconciliation. Regarding Charles Taylor, two related and profound questions puzzled the Afro-optimists everywhere. Was serving prison time the fitting option for a former head of state, defiled by human blood though he was? What should be the prime driving force behind his sentencing?
It is important to keep in mind that, unlike Uganda’s Idi Amin, at the outset Taylor was not a despot, he essentially turned into a democrat gone awry. Was sentencing him to a long prison term consistent with the aspirations of the West African regional reconciliation?
There were compelling reasons why it was proper and fitting that Charles Taylor did endure a grueling trial. The most persuasive of these was, perhaps, that the African people must assimilate the principle that nobody is above the law; not even the head of state. Taylor’s trial was a clear articulation of the principle of ‘my nation before any man.’
This is a critical call in a continent where, despite rampant human rights abuses, no sitting or former head of state had ever been called upon to account for human rights violations against his own people. That was until Charles Taylor.
The proposition here stands that the legal path was a justifiable course of action relative to Taylor. At the minimum, he was entitled to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Yet, it is equally compelling that, regardless of Taylor’s legal culpability, judgment against him was juxtaposed against the public interest of Sierra Leone and Liberia.
That public interest is captured in the word ‘stability’, which is vital to the region. So, what was required of the Taylor case to ensure lasting regional stability? Left to their own devices, court trials and long jail sentences are not enough; indeed they could act as further stimulants to ‘de-stability.’
A trial of a sitting or recently deposed head of state can be tricky business. In quest for instant stability, the newly installed Iraq authorities and the US tried and executed Saddam Hussein in December 2006. But they came to sorrow as the trial and subsequent execution totally de-stabilized the country to the present day. Closer to home, the Western military fraternity of NATO recently deposed and assisted in the public execution of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, but stability still eludes that country.
Walking gingerly against a national leader is a lesson that even the young post-apartheid South Africa has learned the hard way in connection with Jacob Zuma. In the late 1990s, attempts to establish his guilt or innocence before courts of law strained the fabric of society to the limit. And Zuma was not even head of state then; he was merely head of state-in-the-making.
What can be asserted is that punishing or putting a national leader on trial endangers national cohesion. Was a Taylor trial within West Africa a danger to the stability of Liberia and Sierra Leone where he still enjoyed considerable following? The UN seemed to think so. Behold the decision to transfer the legal proceedings at substantial costs to The Hague. Stability of the region must have weighed heavily to in that decision.
Fortunately, Liberia and Sierra Leone have not exploded in fury over the legal tribulations of Charles Tailor, so far. But what happens if Taylor’s appeal is unsuccessful? Is the fifty year sentence considered by some to be such a lengthy jail term that it is construed as overkill? Could the sentence trigger violent riots and hurt the chances of ultimate national reconciliation? The answer is blowing in the wind.
The moral of this story is that oscillating swings of revenge in the relevant West African states is a real possibility. The grudge cycle of ‘you hurt our man today, we shall hurt your man tomorrow’ should be avoided at all costs. There is wisdom in limiting ourselves to de-thronement without decapitation.
This is hardly an attempt to exonerate Charles Taylor’s evil acts. It is a bid to spare the victimized citizens of Sierra Leone and Liberia from additional savagery. What is more, we dare not waste the lessons derived from the Nigeria-Biafra tragic experience. There can be little doubt that kindness and mercy by Nigeria toward its vanquished prime villain, Colonel Ojukwu, made peace easier to uphold in post-Biafra War Nigeria. That peace has endured for fifty years, so far.
Africa longs for enduring piece in Liberia and its neighbors. Given the choice, we should encourage the option of naming and shaming Charles Taylor by smothering him with ubuntu, the African kindness that he denied his victims. Then we should set Charles Taylor free, but conditionally. He must never set foot on any part of West Africa. The two are incompatible and should be forced to remain mutually exclusive. They are inimical to each other.
** James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus) and an independent writer. He is based in South Africa.The views expressed in this blog are those of the author.
Has Barack Obama Betrayed Africa?
January 3, 2013 | 0 Comments
On November 8, 2012, the Government of Kenya prohibited importation of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) foods into the country. Presumably, those foods can be reinstated upon receipt of compelling scientific evidence that they are not a threat to public health. When it comes to foods, however, meeting such a requirement can be a tall order. How does one prove that product XYZ does not cause cancer ten or twenty years down the line?
The USA faces the same unsettling questions as Kenya regarding the impact of genetically engineered foods but, incredibly, the American officialdom does not bar their sale and distribution in the country. Indeed, the American public has practically given up on official GMO safety restrictions; the most they expect now is to be informed when their foods contain the GMOs. To this end, they have resorted to a grass-root political strategy that they are calling the ‘label-it-campaign.’
Two days before Kenya’s announcement of the ban, Californians had voted on Proposition 37, a state-wide ballot initiative of far-reaching implications. Had it been approved, it would have made it mandatory for food companies to label GMOs in foods for the first time in US history. The initiative did fail at the polls, but the contest was robust and the outcome remarkably close. This in itself was good news to the label-it-campaign.
Prop 37 is important in part because it is a reflection of an adversarial relationship that has been brewing in recent years in the American society. On one side are the giant agribusinesses; on the other are the anti-GMO consumer groups and their devoted supporters who condemn the biotech giants for behaving like criminal predators against society. The two sides are locked in a dialogue of the deaf reminiscent of the anti-Vietnam War mass movement which ultimately brought down a US President, Lyndon B. Johnson.
Anti-GMO activists are driven by a conviction that accurate food-labeling is a fundamental right of all Americans to know what is contained in their food, a right enjoyed by citizens of 61 other countries in the civilized world. And they have a corollary belief: that once the true GMO information becomes publicly available via accurate labeling, people will stop buying and eating them. Presumably, this tactical maneuver will eventually trigger the decline and ultimate demise of the ‘wicked’ food giants as we know them today.
To the anti-GMO advocates, theirs is a moral crusade. They have no doubt that the food giants resist GMO-labeling because they have something to hide. After all, for no other reasons than greed, these agribusinesses engage in dubious and reckless ventures, including life-threatening activities, even at the risk of compromising public health and general well-being.
Currently, the same food giants are said to be obsessed with a mission to push the spread of GMO foods around the world, way beyond the US itself. Since this is now a ‘worldwide undertaking,’ the GMO logic continues, wouldn’t Africa be an ideal launching pad? Africans will not resist the GMO foods much. After all, they are desperately hungry!
For its November 8 ban on importation of GMO foods, Kenya is now on record that, if it can, it will not compromise the health of its people by assenting to a food solution fraught with unknown health risks. For that we say, bravo to the Kenyan leadership! But Kenya beware. The mighty agribusinesses are not happy about such resistance lest it becomes trend-setting in Africa and elsewhere in the third world. That eventuality may be hard for the affected MNCs to swallow.
From this perspective, California’s Proposition 37 was a manifestation of a brewing global war in microcosm. True, it was a state-bound confrontation, but California is only one of fifty American states. Could a good anti-GMO political showing in the California vote trigger similar future skirmishes in other states? How long can the MNCs endure recurring battles of this nature all over the USA?
And, behold, even before the dust had settled after the California confrontation, another GMO-labeling brawl has erupted in Washington State in form of a November 2013 anti-GMOs ballot. As a distant but potential victim of GMOs, has Kenya unwittingly become part of a simmering global war by virtue of identifying with the tormented American consumers against the same global agribusinesses?
And Americans are aware that anti-multinational sentiments do not end at the US borders. In 1974, Richard J. Barnet and Ronald E. Muller published a book, Global Reach: The Power of the Multinational Corporations that caused quite a stir in the US. It asserted, in part, that MNCs registered in the US were not necessarily American. They were American-based but their orientation, outlook and outreach were global. In strategy formulation and loyalty, MNCs had transcended the nation-state as the world’s basic units of operation.
When Baraka Obama stormed into the American national scene in early 21st century he, perhaps unwittingly, stepped into the ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ GMO volcanic dialogue. Given that their raison d’être is exclusively to make money, American MNCs had turned on their own in a frenzy to devour fellow Americans for profits. After all, MNCs do not have social contracts with any society, local or international; they are as comfortable with fratricide as they are with genocide.
Hostile sentiments against MNCs were thus a strong ‘intangible factor’ beneath California’s Proposition 37 vote. To the anti-GMO Americans, the heartless and cold-blooded Monsanto Company was, and remains, the ultimate Prime Evil among the MNCs.
In his initial run for the US presidency in 2007, Barack Obama made it publicly clear that he knew and understood the risks of vesting too much power in the hands of MNCs, especially in relations to regulatory government agencies. Furthermore, in the acrimonious confrontation between consumers and the food giants, he was decidedly on the side of the former. Accordingly, his presidency would not allow the Department of Agriculture to be transformed into the department of agribusiness. Regarding GMO-labeling, his position was equally succinct and unequivocal, “Let folks know when their food is genetically modified, because Americans have a right to know what they’re buying.”
On assuming office, however, Obama made a surprising u-turn by suddenly tilting towards big agricultural businesses. In no time, the US president became the most visible ‘convert’ of the biggest of the agri-businesses, the same, much-despised Monsanto.
Obama’s bewildering turnaround was consummated by adopting the ‘revolving door strategy’ of appointing Monsanto’s ex-employees for key positions in government regulatory agencies. The approach was so effective that, in no time, Obama was branded as ‘Monsanto’s man in Washington’ and ‘the most GMO-dedicated politician in America.’ Indeed critics wondered aloud: Did Obama jump or was he pushed? Only Obama knows.
What is publicly known, however, is that Obama evolved what appeared to be a cozy relationship with Monsanto in blatant defiance to public outcry. GMO critics distrust and resist genetically-engineered foods on the grounds that their ultimate impact on human health and environment are still largely unknown. Accordingly their approval for human consumption requires more testing.
In short, the GMOs are scientifically ‘unknown territory.’ The only uncontested claim in the scientific community is that some of the adverse consequences of genetic tinkering on the environment will be irreversible. Consequently, a good many American consumers are unprepared to compromise, even with their otherwise popular president, over the right to know what is in the foods that they buy and their right to choose whether or not to ingest GMO-foods.
Against this background, American anti-GMO advocates remembered Obama’s pledge of 2007 and they held it against him. That promise was simply that the Obama’s Administration would make it legally mandatory for GMO-foods to be labeled as such. They were deeply disappointed that by the 2012 presidential elections, fulfillment of that promise was still nowhere near the president’s agenda. They felt betrayed by Obama, a man they deeply longed to trust.
Yet, Obama has gone considerably further than betray the American consumers. Indeed, he has raised the odds to a whole new level by authorizing and facilitating entry and spread of Western MNCs in Africa. In May 2012, he ceremoniously launched the New Alliance for Food and Nutrition Security (NAFNS), ostensibly to eradicate hunger and poverty in sub-Sahara Africa within the next decade. This ideal is to be achieved by embracing modern agricultural methods and technology, code words for biotech agriculture and GMOs.
Needless to say, the undertaking is to be spearheaded by the huge grand daddy of the GMOs, none other than the world’s biggest agricultural and seed corporate monster, Monsanto. Critics immediately cried foul on the grounds that MNCs are historically known as blood suckers; they are not inclined or equipped, to be in the business of humanitarianism, least of all in Africa. This has always been the case since the advent of the Dutch East India Company, the mother of all MNCs.
The ‘label-it-campaign’ is certainly gathering steam and quickly becoming an unstoppable force. However, it faces an intimidating specter of the GMO club that is resolved to spread GMO-foods around the world, and whose membership has widened to incorporate immensely powerful forces. At this stage the setting is a virtue stalemate between GMO advocates and anti-GMO critics. It is a classic case of irresistible force against an immovable object.
Monsanto is of course at the cutting edge of the GMO advocates. Despite its dirty historical record, it is a powerful, ruthless and super-rich MNC with awesome political influence, even over the US government. The pro-GMO club has also been joined by other ‘rich-and-famous’, including Microsoft’s Bill Gates, now a prominent shareholder in Monsanto.
Bill and Melinda Gate’s Foundation underwrites numerous GMO projects in Africa and is the major funder of Nairobi-based AGRA (Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa) together with the Rockefeller Foundation, an older hand at manipulation of agriculture for profits mostly n Latin America.
AGRA was originally packaged and projected as a brainchild of the highly respected former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan; use of that name probably helped open some doors in Africa. But, in the final analysis, it is the official entry of Barack Obama into the pro-GMO club that is truly unsettling. Obama is not just another man; he is the most powerful individual alive precisely because he is President of the USA, the world’s superpower. He brings with him extraordinary powers.
With ten offices already established in South Africa alone, Monsanto is poised to jump and implement the pro-GMO club’s plan to ‘save the continent from the ravages of poverty and starvation.’ And, this time around, ‘the plan’ has the backing of the most powerful government in history, thanks to Obama. Perhaps Africa’s ‘radicals’ can be forgiven for conjuring up images of a modern-day scramble for Africa. Is Obama duty-bound to comfort his ancestry?
Finally, questions persist. Was Obama truly moved to launch NAFNS by compassion for the hungry Africans? Was he brainwashed by the vile agri-businesses on what they can do for the ‘dark continent’? Or was Obama consumed in a bid to apportion a ‘piece of the continent’ for the West in the face of encroaching Chinese economic dragon? In short, did Obama jump or was he pushed?
Barack Obama and Africa’s Agricultural Revolution: A Dubious Prospect?
January 3, 2013 | 0 Comments
By James Kariuki*
In May this year, US President Barack Obama launched the New Alliance for Food and Nutrition Security (NAFNS.) It is a public-private international initiative intended to eradicate poverty in sub-Saharan Africa within a decade by adopting modern agricultural methods and technology.
Rich G-8 countries are to contribute US$3 billion to NAFNS’ kitty while African and international private companies are to pitch in an equal amount. Presumably, the relevant parties, plus some African governments, will work together harmoniously in an atmosphere where handshakes replace handouts. Should this be celebrated as Obama’s lasting legacy for Africa?
As a concept, the NAFNS may be above reproach, but in practice it poses devastating risks. Will the undertaking be Afro-centric or the domain of ‘external actors’? How will it be shielded from the curse of Africa: corruption? Finally and most importantly, if successful, how will NAFNS be protected from itself: from the temptation to convert into a tool of penetration and abuse of Africa by the non-African partners?
Potentially, NAFNS does have the capacity to boost our continent towards a bona fide agricultural Revolution. Probably, this is what President Obama had in mind. But, behold, Obama will not be US President forever. Indeed we dread that, come January 20, 2013, Mitt Romney could be the man sitting in the White House. Would Romney use NAFNS for a different purpose from Obama? After all, the US does use freely its economic muscle to arm-twist and bully other nations.
In recent months, post-apartheid SA has been under immense American pressure to desist from importing Iranian crude oil or face US economic reprisals. In conjunction with the European Union, the US has targeted Iran for economic sanctions because of its ‘unauthorized’ nuclear program. SA is under unrelenting American psychological siege to do likewise. The ultimate outcome of economic sanctions is that ordinary Iranians will go hungry.
If the RSA yields, it will incur substantial financial costs of transforming its oil refineries to process crude oil from non-Iranian sources. Conversely, if SA does not oblige, a standing command is in place to evict it from the US banking system.
This is a dismal prospect for SA, a country steeped in a deep economic crunch of its own. Thus, thanks to the US recalcitrance, SA finds itself in the unenviable position of ‘I am damned if I do, and I am damned if I don’t.’
It makes logical sense that in this matter SA feels unduly compromised. Despite legitimate concerns over potential proliferation of nuclear weapons in the volatile Middle East, SA does not have a direct quarrel with Iran. Additionally, unlike the US, SA is the only country in the world to ever have ‘de-nuclearized’ voluntarily. Why is it being called upon to pay an economical price by a nuclear USA against Iran in support of a Middle East nuclear Israel? Is this not an unwarranted case of economic bullying? Would the US dare threaten contemporary China with economic sanctions for any reason?
Therein lies the answer. Against the US, SA negotiates from a position of relative weakness. What is the moral of the story? An alliance between weak and strong parties is not tenable or advisable, even if such ‘alliance’ is based on food, as in the case of NAFNS. Already, we know that the US is not above using food in pursuit of political objectives. The American economic sanctions against little Cuba since 1962 is a case in point. That policy is now being pursued elsewhere.
In February this year, the US pledged to supply North Korea with food aid if the impoverished country would desist from its nuclear pursuits. Awhile later, the food offer was revoked on the grounds that North Korea missile launch of April 2012 contravened the food aid offer. The West, including the US, was convinced that the rocket launch was a veiled missile test, not a communication satellite as alleged by North Korea.
Was it political naïveté on the American part to expect political behavior change of an unelected regime on the grounds of a promise for food? Where was the link? The food was never intended for the employees of the regime; it was mainly for children and pregnant women. Further, food is a human right akin to the air that we breathe. It is an aspect of human existence that should be above politics. Even by American standards, to convert food into a political tool was a measure of moral decline.
Given the significance of food, African approach to the African Agricultural Revolution should be self-reliant, an African-driven project. We indeed can and should accept help here and there on condition that it remains ad hoc and subordinate to African will. Is Obama’s NAFNS sensitive to those provisos?
We may not know for certain why NAFNS was created. What is clear, however, is its clear and present danger: its enormous potential to do harm. Given our history, there is something inherently questionable in forming a Western alliance of governments and private enterprises to ‘help’ Africa. It is reminiscent of Otto von Bismarck’s Berlin Conference of 1885 in which Africa was partitioned among Western powers. Additionally, help and private enterprise are conceptually inconsistent, a contradiction in terms. Private businesses are not designed for helping; their raison d’être is profit-making.
Issues become alarming when the matter at hand is food. In a situation of unequal power, NAFNS assigns overwhelming advantage to the stronger party. In the case of NAFNS, the ‘alliance’ amounts to Africa mortgaging its very existence. As Henry Kissinger once said, “If you control the food supply, you control the people.” The former US Secretary of State fully understood that, for a purpose no higher than profit-making, whoever controls food can suddenly bring the other parties to their knees without firing a shot.
The most prominent player among the US private partners with direct links to NAFNS is Monsanto. This is not just another big business it is a giant US-based multinational corporation, the world’s leader in genetically modified crops. Its reach is global: it has its tentacles all over the world, including SA where it has ten offices. It also has claim to a dubious distinction of a scandalous history of legal suits and other controversies in the US and globally. We can survive all that.
What is disconcerting and truly unsettling, however, is the charge that NAFNS is Obama’s conscious design to open doors for “corporate take-over of Africa.” Allegations of his association with Monsato suggest precisely that. Indeed, within the US, the Obama administration has been publicly condemned as having transformed the US Department of Agriculture to the Department of Agribusiness.
* James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus) and an independent writer. He is based in South Africa.The views expressed in this blog are those of the author.