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USA-Africa Relations and the Factor of Counter-Penetration
July 31, 2014 | 0 Comments

James N. Kariuki*

kwame nkrumah and martin luther king

kwame nkrumah and martin luther king

April 4, 2014 marked the 46th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. One of his most publicized acts was to denounce publicly the American involvement in the unpopular Vietnam War. The fact that King was killed exactly a year to the day that he made the anti-Vietnam War announcement still raises eyebrows. Was a bigger force than a lone assassin involved in his murder?

Reverend King was many things to different people but, fundamentally, he was an African American civil rights activist. By condemning American involvement in the Vietnam War King risked alienating Lyndon B. Johnson, an immensely influential and sitting US president who was sympathetic to his civil rights agenda. When asked why he took that chance, Dr. King responded that, to him, justice was indivisible, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Viewed from another perspective, King’s declaration was broader: he could not honestly oppose racial injustice in America yet turn a blind eye to an obvious case of racial injustice in Southeast Asia. Built into this reasoning was a pointed indictment that President Lyndon B. Johnson could not forever get away with the claim of supporting civil rights for Black Americas while presiding over a costly, racially-tainted and brutal war in Vietnam.

Since King’s time, the world has become increasingly sensitive to its demarcation into distinct beneficiaries and victims. At the bottom of the pile, the ultimate casualties as in the North-South divide are Africans and Black people worldwide. But there have been progress in the quest for a solution, partly as a result of Reverend Martin Luther King’s inspiration.

Regarding the gross universal inequalities, the prolific Professor Ali Mazrui has consistently advocated that Global Africa should embrace the strategy of counter-penetration. This means that Black folk who were once openly and blatantly penetrated by Western colonialism should now turn the tables by working to occupy high positions of power within the Western world itself. From such heights, it is said, they are positioned to dispense justice for their fellow brethrens worldwide.

The Ali Mazruis, Chinua Achebes, Ngugi wa Thiong’os, Wole Soyinkas etc. and other American Africans intellectual giants are un-appointed ambassadors of this strategy in the universe of academia. As prominent educators in US educational institutions, these African Diasporans-of-the-Willing have unbridled opportunity to sensitize upcoming generations of future American decision-makers to the agonies and aspirations of continental Africans and Black folk worldwide. Post-colonial American African ‘Diasporans’ in academia are especially suited for this version of counter-penetration.

Equally critical is the role of the black Diaspora of the Unwilling, Diaspora of Enslavement, the descendants of those Africans who were transplanted to the West against their will. They are an integral part of Global Africa lodged in the West, including the most powerful nation on earth, the USA. What has their penetration of power dispensed for Africa so far?

 

James N. Kariuki

James N. Kariuki

The strategy of counter-penetration attributes substantial credit to itself for the reality that the US was less close-minded in condemnation of Kenyans than its European counterparts regarding the 2007 post-elections violence. This open-minded approach was instrumental in ultimately resolving the crisis. Remarkably, it was the African American, Jendayi Frazer, who made an on-site visitation to Kenya and reported her findings to her African America boss, Condoleezza Rice. It is noteworthy that, in addition to being African American, Frazer had studied in Kenya and her doctoral dissertation was on the same country. Presumably, her report on the post-election violence reflected that Kenyans were people with human faces.

The same counter-penetration perspective points out that African American, Colin Powell, reached the pinnacle of American military hierarchy and became the US Secretary of State. Powell had more than a passing interest in the agonies of the Sudan.

African American Condoleezza Rice followed Colin Powell to become the Secretary of State during the George W. Bush presidency. Granted, Rice was not a flag-waving black activist, but her skin is black. At some point, she was touched by one black cause or another. Was it not uniquely symbolic that she wept publicly when Barack Obama won the US presidency to take over from her own white boss, George W. Bush?  Blackness seemed to have overridden the fact that Obama was a Democrat while Rice and her boss were Republicans?  There was more.

In April 2008, Condoleezza Rice, urged the US Senate to pass a law to remove South Africa’s ANC categorization as a terrorist organization from the US database. The unflattering classification was originally attained during anti-apartheid era when the apartheid regime portrayed the party as a terrorist organization. Ten years after the demise of apartheid, ANC members still could not get visas to enter the US without personal waivers by the Secretary of State. In most cases, the mere requirement of the waiver amounted to visa denial.

In 2008 Rice told a Senate hearing that she found it discomforting to have to personally waive visa restrictions for her South African counterpart, the Minister for Foreign Affairs. More disconcerting, she had to do the same for the world-acknowledged icon of peace, Nelson Mandela.

The 2008 bid against ANC categorization was spearheaded by a Californian liberal lawmaker, Representative Howard Berman.  His language was more biting. “It is shameful that the US still treats the ANC this way, based solely on its designation as a terrorist organization by the old apartheid South African regime.” Regarding Mandela requiring a special waiver of the Secretary of State to obtain entry visa for the US, he simply stated, “What an indignity.”

This was not the first time that African American Diasporans-of-the-Unwilling fought for black-ruled South Africa within the confines of the American political system. One of the unsettling landmarks for the demise of apartheid was the passage of the 1986 Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act. That legislation resulted from unrelenting work of the US Congressional Black Caucus under the leadership of a black Congressman, Ronald Dellums. Most notably, its passage was an override over the veto of a popular President, Ronald Reagan.

Before Reverend King, Black Americans in South USA could not vote, much less become legislators. Today, the same black Americans have occupied virtually every political position, including the US presidency. Behind it all is King’s powerful notion that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. After all, Barack Obama’s political calling was first triggered by racial injustice in South Africa. This is a case of counter-penetration at its finest.

**James Kariuki is Professor of International Relations and a private consultant based in South Africa.The views expressed in this blog are his

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On the Concept of Afrabia
March 23, 2014 | 0 Comments

By Ali A. Mazrui and James N. Kariuki *

 There are different levels of Pan-Africanism, varying in degrees of sustainability. Sub-Saharan Pan-Africanism is a quest for the unification of black people in Africa below the Sahara. Then there are two possible versions of continental Pan-Africanism.

Sub-continental Pan-Africanism seeks union of black states while excluding Arab Africa. This idea has been floated from time to time, but it does not seem to gather much political support. More triumphant has been trans-Saharan Pan-Africanism which formed the basis for Afro-Arab Organization of African Unity (OAU) and its successor, the African Union (AU).

Another version of sub-Saharan Pan-Africanism is sub-regional rather than sub-continental. The sub-regional variety has produced organizations like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which in recent years has been more of an activist as a peacekeeping force than as a vanguard for economic change.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) also received a new lease on life when South Africa became a fully fledged member in the post-apartheid era. In December 1999 Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania finally succeeded in reviving the East African Community since its collapse 22 years earlier.

By far the most ambitious idea floating around in the new era of intellectual speculation is whether the whole of Africa and the whole of the Arab world are two regions in the process of merging into one. Out of this speculative discourse has emerged the concept of Afrabia.  Is the Afrabia a mere intellectual fascination or can it be realized in practical terms?

Two tendencies have stimulated the new thinking about African-Arab relations. One tendency is basically negative but potentially unifying: the war on terrorism. The new international terrorism may have its roots in injustices perpetrated against such Arab people as Palestinians and Iraqis, but the primary theatre of contestation is blurring the distinction between the Middle East and the African continent.

To kill twelve Americans in Nairobi in August 1998, over 200 Kenyans died in a terrorist act at the United States Embassy in Nairobi. Four years later, a suicide bomber in Mombasa, attacked the Israeli-owned and patronized Paradise Hotel. There too, three times as many Kenyans as Israelis perished. These incidents of unmitigated violence were mere rehearsals in microcosm of the spectacular September 2013 week-long terrorist attack on Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi where over 60 innocent people were killed.
Apart from the war on terror, Islam as a cultural and political force has also been deepening relations between Africa and the Middle East. Intellectual revival is not only a Western idiom. It is also the idiom of African cultures and African Islam. Hot political debates about the Shariah (Islamic Law) in Nigeria and the political objectives of the contemporary violent Boko Haram constitute part of the trend of cultural integration between Africa and the Middle East.

Recent legitimization of Muammar Gaddafi as a viable African leader contributed to the birth of no less a new institution than the AU. It is sometimes startling how much more Pan-Africanist than Pan-Arabist Gaddafi had become in the years preceding his death. At least before he died, Gaddafi was steadily out-Africanizing the legacy of Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The fourth force that may be merging Africa with the Middle East is political economy. Africa’s oil producers need to form a joint partnership with the bigger oil producers of the Middle East.

download (2)In the area of aid and trade between Africa and the Middle East, the volume may have gone down since the 1980s. But most indications seem to promise a future expansion of economic relations between Africa and the Middle East. In the Gulf countries of the United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman, the concept of Afrabia has begun to be examined on higher and higher echelons.

It was initially trans-Saharan Pan-Africanism that gave birth to the idea of Afrabia. The first post-colonial waves of Pan-Africanists like Kwame Nkrumah, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Sekou Toure believed that the Sahara was a bridge rather than a divide.

The concept of Afrabia now connotes more than interaction between Africanity and Arab identity; it is seen as a process of fusion between the two. While the principle of Afrabia recognizes that Africa and the Arab world are overlapping categories, it goes on to prophesy that these two are in the historic process of becoming one.

But who are the Afrabians? There are in reality at least four categories. Cultural Afrabians are those whose culture and way of life have been deeply Arabized but have fallen short of their being linguistically Arabs. Most Somali, Hausa, and some Waswahili are cultural Afrabians in that sense. Their mother-tongue is not Arabic, but much of the rest of their culture bears the stamp of Arab and Islamic impact.

Ideological Afrabians are those who intellectually believe in solidarity between Arabs and Africans, or at least between Arab Africa and black Africa. Historically, such ideological Afrabian leaders have included Kwame Nkrumah, the founder president of Ghana; Gamal Abdel Nasser, arguably the greatest Egyptian of the 20th Century; Sekou Toure, the founding father of post-colonial Guinea (Conakry), and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. Such leaders refused to acknowledge the Sahara Desert as a divide; they insisted on visualizing it as a historic bridge.

Geographical Afrabians are those Arabs and Berbers whose countries are concurrently members of both the African Union and the Arab League. Some of these countries are overwhelmingly Arab, such as Egypt and Tunisia, while others are only marginally Arab, such as Mauritania, Somalia and the Comoro Islands.

Finally, there are the genealogical Afrabians. These are those who are biologically descended from both Arabs and Black Africans. In North Africa they have included Anwar Sadat, the former President of Egypt who concluded a peace treaty with Israel and was assassinated for it in 1982. Anwar Sadat’s mother was Black and his father was Arabic. He was politically criticized for many things, but almost never for being racially mixed.

download (1)Genealogical Afrabians in sub-Saharan Africa include Tanzanian Salim Ahmed Salim, the longest serving Secretary-General of the OAU, and the Mazrui clan scattered across Coastal Kenya and Tanzania. It should be noted that Northern Sudanese qualify as Afrabians by both geographical and genealogical criteria.

These four sub-categories of Afrabians provide some of the evidence that Africa and the Arab world are two geographical regions that are in the slow historic process of merging.

*Ali A. Mazrui is the globally distinguished Professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton.  James N. Kariuki is Professor (emeritus) of International Relations. He is a Kenyan resident in South Africa.

 

 

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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.

Professor James N. Kariuki

Professor James N. Kariuki

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.

 

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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.” Prof-James-KariukiMandela 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.      ]]>

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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 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.    ]]>

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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.

 

Prof-James-Kariuki

Prof-James-Kariuki

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.

 

 

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Nelson Mandela and the Elusive Rainbow Nation
December 10, 2013 | 0 Comments

James N. Kariuki*

download (3)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.

 

Prof-James-KariukiClearly, 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Barack Obama, Tanzania and Illusion of Africa’s Food Security
September 3, 2013 | 1 Comments

James N. Kariuki*

President Kikwete of Tanzania and US President Barack Obama

President Kikwete of Tanzania and US President Barack Obama

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?

President Obama on a recent  greets Tanzanians during his recent visit

President Obama on a recent greets Tanzanians during his recent visit

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.

Prof James Kariuki

Prof James Kariuki

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

 

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Kenya: Outpost of Conflicting Global Interests
August 24, 2013 | 0 Comments

James N. Kariuki*

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta with British Prime Minister David CameronAn 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.

Prof-James-KariukiBut 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.

 

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Making of an African Dictatorship: The Case of Robert Mugabe
July 29, 2013 | 0 Comments

James N. Kariuki*

 President MugabeThe 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 and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair 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.

 Prof-James-KariukiFinally, 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.

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China and Barack Obama’s Defective Offer of Equal Partnership
July 24, 2013 | 0 Comments

James N. Kariuki*

Obama with African Leaders at White House 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?

Prof-James-KariukiWhat 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.

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Goree Island, Barack Obama and Apology for Slavery
July 11, 2013 | 0 Comments

By James N. Kariuki*

SENEGAL-US-DIPLOMACYIn 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.”

U.S. President Barack Obama looks out to sea through the 'Door of No Return,' at the slave house on Goree Island, in Dakar, Senegal, Thursday, June 27, 2013. Obama is calling his visit to a Senegalese island from which Africans were said to have been shipped across the Atlantic Ocean into slavery, a 'very powerful moment. AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

U.S. President Barack Obama looks out to sea through the ‘Door of No Return,’ at the slave house on Goree Island, in Dakar, Senegal, Thursday, June 27, 2013. Obama is calling his visit to a Senegalese island from which Africans were said to have been shipped across the Atlantic Ocean into slavery, a ‘very powerful moment. AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

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.

Prof-James-KariukiIn 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.

**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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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