Julius Malema’s Legacy in Post-Apartheid South Africa
January 28, 2013 | 1 Comments
By James N.Kariuki*
A strange sense of loss lingers in reading South African newspapers and not spotting the name of Julius Malema mentioned at least once. It confirms the nagging suspicion that I once had, that the South African public would miss good ol’ Juju (Malema’s nickname) if he ever disappeared from the country’s public scene. Malema is no longer in South Africa’s public view; he vanished from the political screen a year ago.
The outside world may not know much of who Julius Malema is. He is not an old official or a sporting national hero.. Yet at one stage, Malema’s name was better known than that of South Africa’s president. So, who is this Malema?
Julius Malema is a political creation of the 2007 fall of South Africa’s former President Thabo Mbeki from power. As the newly-elect leader of the ANC Youth League, Malema became instrumental in Mbeki’s political ouster as the mouthpiece of the rising political star, Jacob Zuma. Malema was fully convinced of the correctness of Zuma’s takeover. Indeed he publicly declared that the youth of South Africa was prepared to die and kill for Zuma. That statement was heard around the world.
For nearly six years, Malema entertained, confounded, offended, puzzled and intrigued his national audience. Some found him offensive and threatening. To them, he was a reckless populist, an undisciplined and opportunistic demagogue.
To others, the same Malema was as a charming and inspirational leader, a clever and perceptive politician with a penetrating mind. He grasped what ordinary South Africans did not and told it ‘like it was’ with a cocky attitude of ‘I say what I like.’ Supporters would have walked to the end of the world with Julius, their charismatic hero.
Still others were gripped by Malema’s capability to jolt. He did not have the fire and inspiring ability of a Malcolm X or the humility and disarming intellect of Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere. But with Malema around, there never was a dull moment. He was indeed controversial and always told the truth as he saw it. For that, he was a newsmaker. For his frankness, he often got into trouble and ultimately came to grief.
In February 2012, Julius Malema was finally expelled from the ANC on the grounds of sawing division in the party. By that act alone, he was deprived of a national platform and international visibility. All that is heard of him now is his legal woes with the law.
A critical question arises. Malema is gone, thrown into political wilderness. In banishing him, was there a case of throwing out the baby with the dirty water? When all is said and done, did Malema have a valid message for SA? What is his lasting legacy to SA, a legacy that that transcend his rhetoric and shifting images?
There is little doubt that Malema did fuel an ideological split in the ANC. But he did not cause that divide; he merely unveiled and magnified it for all to see. The fissure between ANC conservatives and the radicals was there long before Malema, and it may remain there long after him. The ANC will ultimately have to come to grips with the fact of this divide.
Post-apartheid black SA remains horrifically poor in absolute and relative terms. Since 2009, the country has indeed overtaken Brazil as the most skewed society in the world. How to close the income inequality gap, rectify this politically explosive lop-sidedness, is where irreconcilable differences between Malema and his party bosses originated.
The left, championed by Malema for half a decade, is committed to the notion that an ANC government is duty-bound to nationalize the means of production such as mines and white-owned lands. By doing so, that government will capture the commanding heights of the economy and position itself where it can redistribute the national wealth more equitably. In that manner, it will be in a position to blunt the offensive and politically dangerous economic inequality of wealth between the white haves and the black have-nots.
The left thus rejects the conventional official wisdom that the first order of the day is for the government to sustain national economic growth to address such threats as unemployment and political instability. To the left, such superficial stay-the-course approach provides space for foreign investments which, ultimately, perpetuate poverty and encourage offensive arrogance of foreigners. Some critics have suggested that the August 16, 2012 Marikana Massacre is testimony to this perception.
In contemporary SA, the idea of land confiscation and nationalization of mines is popular and explosive. It appeals because it is widely believed to be an intrinsically valid method to address the issue of general and relative poverty. There exists a widespread view that, after what South Africans went through to dismantle apartheid, everybody should be able to come to the party. Secondly, it contains a dose of anti-white sentiments. Negative racial undercurrent remains a potent component of the country’s politics.
Thirdly COSATU, SA’s largest federation of unions, laments that the apartheid economy of exploitation remains intact. COSATU is the powerful partner in the ANC’s government of tripartite alliance. Will a time come when this vocal mega-labor federation starts to agitate for dismantling of the country’s economy?
Finally, aversion to excessive white wealth in an endless sea of poverty has slowly but surely seeped into the moderate circles. For one, Professor Ali Mazrui regrets that abolishment of apartheid excluded economic concessions to Blacks. In his own words, in 1994 the white man said to the Blacks, “You take the crown; we will keep the jewels.’ In that manner economic inequality was officially entrenched.
To mitigate the agony of economic ‘dream-deferred’, Malema’s political dream was to snatch back some of the ‘gold’ for himself and his black fellows. In this context, he can be forgiven for harboring drastic views; he is an angry young man in a hurry. But the complaint of economic ‘justice-delayed’ is slowly being echoed by less radical anti-apartheid champions.
In August 2011, Archbishop Desmond Tutu Emeritus, by no means a man of Malema’s ideological persuasion, raised eyebrows by calling for imposition of a tax on white wealth to speed up South Africa’s economic transformation.At the grassroots level, Malema’s so-called revolutionary agenda resonates as ‘conventional.’ Indeed, it has widespread appeal, perhaps strong enough to destabilize the country. Hence, the concern that SA’s political order is increasingly becoming susceptible to an Obama-type politician. Could a Malema reappear in a different guise?
**James N. Kariuki is a Professor of International Relations and an independent Consultant based in South Africa. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author.
US Owes Apology to Global Africa
January 24, 2013 | 0 Comments
By James N. Kariuki *
During the 2008 US presidential campaign, Barack Obama was asked for his thoughts on the issue of reparations. To him, the best that America could do to compensate its African-American citizens was to provide better inner city schools. This answer was a coded response that black Americans’ socio-economic ‘advancement’ had to be individually earned.
It was a soothing political response for an American audience. It was also an early warning that, Obama -considered himself an American first and foremost. Africa and Africans had no claim on him. When he was elected, Obama steadfastly adhered to that doctrine for his entire first term.
Now Obama is almost a week old into his second term. Yet, we still do not know for sure, his stand on the question of reparations for Global Africa, a claim made against historical abuse especially relative to slavery. Yet, in this broad sense, reparations are indeed both an American and a global issue.
In 1804 Haiti, the small island country, made history by undertaking a full-fledged slave revolt against the colonizing French. That revolution became the first successful strike against subjugation of Black people in the so-called the New World.
Haiti hit the world headlines again in 2003 by demanding that France paid $22 billion in restitutions for cash paid to French landowners in Haiti as a pre-condition for the island’s independence in 1825. This demand constituted the basis of major differences between the implicated slave-owning Western countries (especially the USA and France) and the incumbent President of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Aristide was accused of orchestrating the huge reparations demand and was ultimately banished out of his own country in 1994 by the same Western powers.
In 2004, South Africa celebrated its 10th anniversary of Black rule; in 1994 anti-apartheid forces had succeeded in dismantling ‘political’ racism in Africa. That revolution became the last successful strike against Blacks people’s overt subjugation worldwide. In racial terms, South Africa had finally concluded the racial liberation process launched by Haiti two hundred years earlier.
Affinity quickly solidified between the two ‘liberating’ nations. In January 2004, South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki, attended Haiti’s celebrations of its revolution, the only African Head of State to do so. Shortly thereafter, in March 2004, the Mbeki’s government granted political asylum to Aristide, the same President under whom Haiti had demanded a $20 billion payment of reparations from France in 2003. France was one of the world’s powers that had determined that Aristide had to leave his homeland in 2004 allegedly in the interest of Haiti’s political stability.
Critics have insisted that Aristide’s forced exile to South Africa was ultimately triggered by his stand on the issue of reparations. The US, and France in particular, were alarmed about the general political fall-out of such a public call. But the demand for French reparations had a ring of hollowness as we are tuned into thinking of Third World indebtedness. Was Aristide’s Haiti agitating for a re-visit to the fundamental question of who owes whom in the world?
South Africa was already caught in a storm of animated debate on this issue of debts owed. The persistent question was: should Black South Africans seek legal restitution from Western multinational companies that had benefited enormously from their exploitation during apartheid?
Opinions in South Africa on the issue varied vastly. One proposition, championed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, insisted that harmed Black South Africans were indeed entitled to seek legal restitution and, if found liable, the Western multinationals were duty-bound to make amends. Tutu was personally on record as a key witness in a case lodged in the USA in support of the injured black applicants.
However, Mbeki’s government differed urging that South Africans should let bygones be bygones. In particular, the Mbeki administration was averse to the notion of South African citizens seeking restitution by litigation in foreign countries. Indeed, that regime went as far as contacting the US Court that was preparing to hear the South Africans’ case, urging a dismissal. Jacob Zuma’s administration would reverse that position in the years to come.
For resisting the quest for restitution for apartheid’s victims during Mbeki’s era, the ANC government found itself in a collision course with Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Chairman of its Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Further, the government’s attitude was antithetical to the cause of its national guest from Global Africa, Haiti’s President Aristide. As noted, astute observers are convinced that Aristide had been reduced to an ‘asylum seeker’ precisely because of his stand on the issue of reparations.
In the issue of reparations, history was on the side of Bishop Desmond Tutu. In situations where a definable group has absorbed ‘collective injury’ from another tradition has been to amend the wrongs by paying restitution. The most famous case is, of course, that of the Jews in the holocaust. Post-World War II Germany has faithfully and openly made enormous amends to the Jewish people and the state of Israel.
There have been other notable instances such as the Japanese wrongful relocation and internment by the Roosevelt administration during World War II. In December 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. US citizens feared another attack and war hysteria gripped the country. Pressure mounted on President Franklin Roosevelt to take pre-emptive action against Japanese descendants living in the US.
In February 1942, Roosevelt signed an Executive Order under which120, 000 people of Japanese descent living along the US Pacific coast were removed from their homes and placed in internment camps known as War Relocation Camps. The order was justified against the claim that people of Japanese extraction were likely to act as spies for Japan. Yet, during the entire war only ten people were ever convicted of spying for Japan, and these were all Caucasians.
Other considerations made the apartheid-like internments painfully unreasonable. More than two thirds of those interned were American citizens and half of them were children. None had been accused of disloyalty to USA. Finally, within the internment program, there were instances where family members were separated and put in different camps. For all practical purposes, these internment camps were tantamount to incarceration in ‘concentration camps.’
Forty three years after World War II, the US Government succumbed to domestic political pressure and concurred to pay restitutions in the amount of $1.2 billion to the affected Japanese families The 1988 American decision on restitution was accompanied by a moving statement and a pledge:
“In remembering, it is important to come to grips with the past. No nation can fully understand itself or find its place in the world if it does not look with clear eyes at all the glories and disgraces of its past. We in the United States acknowledge such an injustice in our history. The internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry was a great injustice, and it will never be repeated.”
Ten years after the American commendable decision, in February 2008, the Government of Australia officially and publicly extended full and unreserved apology to its Aborigine citizens for historical wrongful treatment, for “the “laws and policies that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.” The Australian Government did not mentioned reparations for the Aborigines by name, but amends for the purpose have been coming, albeit grudgingly.
Fair-minded people would agree that Blacks in Global Africa have endured greater ‘collective injury’ than all the other groups combined. Yet, no reparations have ever been paid to them. Legal experts insist that this failure is due to the enormity of the Blacks’ issue; it is too overwhelming. The case of apartheid victims is manageable and that makes it a bigger issue than just South Africa. As a legal and moral precedent, it embraces the entire Global Africa.
Even if he could, President Barack Obama is not obliged to rescue Africa; Americans voted him into power and he is answerable to them. However, slavery was an American sin and I remain convinced that Obama has a presidential and personal responsibility to apologize to global Africa for that wrongdoing. That issue alone is an opportunity to place the first Black American president in his rightful place in history. Hopefully, Obama will not let the moment slide by.
*James N. Kariuki is a Professor of International Relations and an independent Consultant based in South Africa. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author.
Just Let Charles Taylor Go?
January 9, 2013 | 0 Comments
James N. Kariuki*
Ojukwu spearheaded Biafra in the 1967-1970 Nigerian Civil War. All told, the bloody secessionist struggle cost more than a million lives. Biafra lost the war and, to a large extent, Ojukwu was demonized outside Biafra as its heroic villain.
When the war finally ended after three agonizing years, Ojukwu fled into exile in the Ivory Coast. He probably feared that rugged Nigeria would follow him in hot pursuit as a war criminal. To deter other home-grown rebels, the reasoning continued, Nigeria may have been keen to throw Ojukwu in jail for life, or have him face a firing squad for a dramatic demonstration-effect. Whatever the case, the presumption was that Ojukwu’s life was in real danger.
But the Giant of Africa was not contemplating punitive acts. In a remarkable show of restraint, Nigeria merely issued a 1982 presidential pardon for Ojukwu. After thirteen years in exile, Colonel Ojukwu returned to Nigeria to a hero’s welcome. In time, he became an active politician in his motherland until his death in November 2011. Even his funeral was bestowed with honors of a national, very important person.
On the other hand, one of the most dramatic pieces of African-related news of the first half of the 21st century has been the guilty verdict against Liberia’s Charles Taylor by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Not far from Nigeria geographically and only two decades after the Biafra fiasco, another African political offender had emerged and has now been found guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes. By reputation, Taylor by far overshadows Ojukwu as the senseless, vicious Prime Evil of West Africa.
In both instances, Africa sought justice. In Nigeria, Ojukwu was a lucky recipient of ‘justice tempered with mercy’ in the interest of what Nigeria’s President, General Yakubu Gowon, called the ‘dawn of national reconciliation.’ But before May 2012 came around we virtually anticipated that, at the hands of the International Court of Justice at the Hague, Taylor was likely face prison time, a case of ‘justice without mercy.’
Nigeria’s ultimate handling of Ojukwu’s wrongdoing was driven by a desire for national reconciliation. Regarding Charles Taylor, two related and profound questions puzzled the Afro-optimists everywhere. Was serving prison time the fitting option for a former head of state, defiled by human blood though he was? What should be the prime driving force behind his sentencing?
It is important to keep in mind that, unlike Uganda’s Idi Amin, at the outset Taylor was not a despot, he essentially turned into a democrat gone awry. Was sentencing him to a long prison term consistent with the aspirations of the West African regional reconciliation?
There were compelling reasons why it was proper and fitting that Charles Taylor did endure a grueling trial. The most persuasive of these was, perhaps, that the African people must assimilate the principle that nobody is above the law; not even the head of state. Taylor’s trial was a clear articulation of the principle of ‘my nation before any man.’
This is a critical call in a continent where, despite rampant human rights abuses, no sitting or former head of state had ever been called upon to account for human rights violations against his own people. That was until Charles Taylor.
The proposition here stands that the legal path was a justifiable course of action relative to Taylor. At the minimum, he was entitled to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Yet, it is equally compelling that, regardless of Taylor’s legal culpability, judgment against him was juxtaposed against the public interest of Sierra Leone and Liberia.
That public interest is captured in the word ‘stability’, which is vital to the region. So, what was required of the Taylor case to ensure lasting regional stability? Left to their own devices, court trials and long jail sentences are not enough; indeed they could act as further stimulants to ‘de-stability.’
A trial of a sitting or recently deposed head of state can be tricky business. In quest for instant stability, the newly installed Iraq authorities and the US tried and executed Saddam Hussein in December 2006. But they came to sorrow as the trial and subsequent execution totally de-stabilized the country to the present day. Closer to home, the Western military fraternity of NATO recently deposed and assisted in the public execution of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, but stability still eludes that country.
Walking gingerly against a national leader is a lesson that even the young post-apartheid South Africa has learned the hard way in connection with Jacob Zuma. In the late 1990s, attempts to establish his guilt or innocence before courts of law strained the fabric of society to the limit. And Zuma was not even head of state then; he was merely head of state-in-the-making.
What can be asserted is that punishing or putting a national leader on trial endangers national cohesion. Was a Taylor trial within West Africa a danger to the stability of Liberia and Sierra Leone where he still enjoyed considerable following? The UN seemed to think so. Behold the decision to transfer the legal proceedings at substantial costs to The Hague. Stability of the region must have weighed heavily to in that decision.
Fortunately, Liberia and Sierra Leone have not exploded in fury over the legal tribulations of Charles Tailor, so far. But what happens if Taylor’s appeal is unsuccessful? Is the fifty year sentence considered by some to be such a lengthy jail term that it is construed as overkill? Could the sentence trigger violent riots and hurt the chances of ultimate national reconciliation? The answer is blowing in the wind.
The moral of this story is that oscillating swings of revenge in the relevant West African states is a real possibility. The grudge cycle of ‘you hurt our man today, we shall hurt your man tomorrow’ should be avoided at all costs. There is wisdom in limiting ourselves to de-thronement without decapitation.
This is hardly an attempt to exonerate Charles Taylor’s evil acts. It is a bid to spare the victimized citizens of Sierra Leone and Liberia from additional savagery. What is more, we dare not waste the lessons derived from the Nigeria-Biafra tragic experience. There can be little doubt that kindness and mercy by Nigeria toward its vanquished prime villain, Colonel Ojukwu, made peace easier to uphold in post-Biafra War Nigeria. That peace has endured for fifty years, so far.
Africa longs for enduring piece in Liberia and its neighbors. Given the choice, we should encourage the option of naming and shaming Charles Taylor by smothering him with ubuntu, the African kindness that he denied his victims. Then we should set Charles Taylor free, but conditionally. He must never set foot on any part of West Africa. The two are incompatible and should be forced to remain mutually exclusive. They are inimical to each other.
** James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus) and an independent writer. He is based in South Africa.The views expressed in this blog are those of the author.
Has Barack Obama Betrayed Africa?
January 3, 2013 | 0 Comments
On November 8, 2012, the Government of Kenya prohibited importation of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) foods into the country. Presumably, those foods can be reinstated upon receipt of compelling scientific evidence that they are not a threat to public health. When it comes to foods, however, meeting such a requirement can be a tall order. How does one prove that product XYZ does not cause cancer ten or twenty years down the line?
The USA faces the same unsettling questions as Kenya regarding the impact of genetically engineered foods but, incredibly, the American officialdom does not bar their sale and distribution in the country. Indeed, the American public has practically given up on official GMO safety restrictions; the most they expect now is to be informed when their foods contain the GMOs. To this end, they have resorted to a grass-root political strategy that they are calling the ‘label-it-campaign.’
Two days before Kenya’s announcement of the ban, Californians had voted on Proposition 37, a state-wide ballot initiative of far-reaching implications. Had it been approved, it would have made it mandatory for food companies to label GMOs in foods for the first time in US history. The initiative did fail at the polls, but the contest was robust and the outcome remarkably close. This in itself was good news to the label-it-campaign.
Prop 37 is important in part because it is a reflection of an adversarial relationship that has been brewing in recent years in the American society. On one side are the giant agribusinesses; on the other are the anti-GMO consumer groups and their devoted supporters who condemn the biotech giants for behaving like criminal predators against society. The two sides are locked in a dialogue of the deaf reminiscent of the anti-Vietnam War mass movement which ultimately brought down a US President, Lyndon B. Johnson.
Anti-GMO activists are driven by a conviction that accurate food-labeling is a fundamental right of all Americans to know what is contained in their food, a right enjoyed by citizens of 61 other countries in the civilized world. And they have a corollary belief: that once the true GMO information becomes publicly available via accurate labeling, people will stop buying and eating them. Presumably, this tactical maneuver will eventually trigger the decline and ultimate demise of the ‘wicked’ food giants as we know them today.
To the anti-GMO advocates, theirs is a moral crusade. They have no doubt that the food giants resist GMO-labeling because they have something to hide. After all, for no other reasons than greed, these agribusinesses engage in dubious and reckless ventures, including life-threatening activities, even at the risk of compromising public health and general well-being.
Currently, the same food giants are said to be obsessed with a mission to push the spread of GMO foods around the world, way beyond the US itself. Since this is now a ‘worldwide undertaking,’ the GMO logic continues, wouldn’t Africa be an ideal launching pad? Africans will not resist the GMO foods much. After all, they are desperately hungry!
For its November 8 ban on importation of GMO foods, Kenya is now on record that, if it can, it will not compromise the health of its people by assenting to a food solution fraught with unknown health risks. For that we say, bravo to the Kenyan leadership! But Kenya beware. The mighty agribusinesses are not happy about such resistance lest it becomes trend-setting in Africa and elsewhere in the third world. That eventuality may be hard for the affected MNCs to swallow.
From this perspective, California’s Proposition 37 was a manifestation of a brewing global war in microcosm. True, it was a state-bound confrontation, but California is only one of fifty American states. Could a good anti-GMO political showing in the California vote trigger similar future skirmishes in other states? How long can the MNCs endure recurring battles of this nature all over the USA?
And, behold, even before the dust had settled after the California confrontation, another GMO-labeling brawl has erupted in Washington State in form of a November 2013 anti-GMOs ballot. As a distant but potential victim of GMOs, has Kenya unwittingly become part of a simmering global war by virtue of identifying with the tormented American consumers against the same global agribusinesses?
And Americans are aware that anti-multinational sentiments do not end at the US borders. In 1974, Richard J. Barnet and Ronald E. Muller published a book, Global Reach: The Power of the Multinational Corporations that caused quite a stir in the US. It asserted, in part, that MNCs registered in the US were not necessarily American. They were American-based but their orientation, outlook and outreach were global. In strategy formulation and loyalty, MNCs had transcended the nation-state as the world’s basic units of operation.
When Baraka Obama stormed into the American national scene in early 21st century he, perhaps unwittingly, stepped into the ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ GMO volcanic dialogue. Given that their raison d’être is exclusively to make money, American MNCs had turned on their own in a frenzy to devour fellow Americans for profits. After all, MNCs do not have social contracts with any society, local or international; they are as comfortable with fratricide as they are with genocide.
Hostile sentiments against MNCs were thus a strong ‘intangible factor’ beneath California’s Proposition 37 vote. To the anti-GMO Americans, the heartless and cold-blooded Monsanto Company was, and remains, the ultimate Prime Evil among the MNCs.
In his initial run for the US presidency in 2007, Barack Obama made it publicly clear that he knew and understood the risks of vesting too much power in the hands of MNCs, especially in relations to regulatory government agencies. Furthermore, in the acrimonious confrontation between consumers and the food giants, he was decidedly on the side of the former. Accordingly, his presidency would not allow the Department of Agriculture to be transformed into the department of agribusiness. Regarding GMO-labeling, his position was equally succinct and unequivocal, “Let folks know when their food is genetically modified, because Americans have a right to know what they’re buying.”
On assuming office, however, Obama made a surprising u-turn by suddenly tilting towards big agricultural businesses. In no time, the US president became the most visible ‘convert’ of the biggest of the agri-businesses, the same, much-despised Monsanto.
Obama’s bewildering turnaround was consummated by adopting the ‘revolving door strategy’ of appointing Monsanto’s ex-employees for key positions in government regulatory agencies. The approach was so effective that, in no time, Obama was branded as ‘Monsanto’s man in Washington’ and ‘the most GMO-dedicated politician in America.’ Indeed critics wondered aloud: Did Obama jump or was he pushed? Only Obama knows.
What is publicly known, however, is that Obama evolved what appeared to be a cozy relationship with Monsanto in blatant defiance to public outcry. GMO critics distrust and resist genetically-engineered foods on the grounds that their ultimate impact on human health and environment are still largely unknown. Accordingly their approval for human consumption requires more testing.
In short, the GMOs are scientifically ‘unknown territory.’ The only uncontested claim in the scientific community is that some of the adverse consequences of genetic tinkering on the environment will be irreversible. Consequently, a good many American consumers are unprepared to compromise, even with their otherwise popular president, over the right to know what is in the foods that they buy and their right to choose whether or not to ingest GMO-foods.
Against this background, American anti-GMO advocates remembered Obama’s pledge of 2007 and they held it against him. That promise was simply that the Obama’s Administration would make it legally mandatory for GMO-foods to be labeled as such. They were deeply disappointed that by the 2012 presidential elections, fulfillment of that promise was still nowhere near the president’s agenda. They felt betrayed by Obama, a man they deeply longed to trust.
Yet, Obama has gone considerably further than betray the American consumers. Indeed, he has raised the odds to a whole new level by authorizing and facilitating entry and spread of Western MNCs in Africa. In May 2012, he ceremoniously launched the New Alliance for Food and Nutrition Security (NAFNS), ostensibly to eradicate hunger and poverty in sub-Sahara Africa within the next decade. This ideal is to be achieved by embracing modern agricultural methods and technology, code words for biotech agriculture and GMOs.
Needless to say, the undertaking is to be spearheaded by the huge grand daddy of the GMOs, none other than the world’s biggest agricultural and seed corporate monster, Monsanto. Critics immediately cried foul on the grounds that MNCs are historically known as blood suckers; they are not inclined or equipped, to be in the business of humanitarianism, least of all in Africa. This has always been the case since the advent of the Dutch East India Company, the mother of all MNCs.
The ‘label-it-campaign’ is certainly gathering steam and quickly becoming an unstoppable force. However, it faces an intimidating specter of the GMO club that is resolved to spread GMO-foods around the world, and whose membership has widened to incorporate immensely powerful forces. At this stage the setting is a virtue stalemate between GMO advocates and anti-GMO critics. It is a classic case of irresistible force against an immovable object.
Monsanto is of course at the cutting edge of the GMO advocates. Despite its dirty historical record, it is a powerful, ruthless and super-rich MNC with awesome political influence, even over the US government. The pro-GMO club has also been joined by other ‘rich-and-famous’, including Microsoft’s Bill Gates, now a prominent shareholder in Monsanto.
Bill and Melinda Gate’s Foundation underwrites numerous GMO projects in Africa and is the major funder of Nairobi-based AGRA (Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa) together with the Rockefeller Foundation, an older hand at manipulation of agriculture for profits mostly n Latin America.
AGRA was originally packaged and projected as a brainchild of the highly respected former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan; use of that name probably helped open some doors in Africa. But, in the final analysis, it is the official entry of Barack Obama into the pro-GMO club that is truly unsettling. Obama is not just another man; he is the most powerful individual alive precisely because he is President of the USA, the world’s superpower. He brings with him extraordinary powers.
With ten offices already established in South Africa alone, Monsanto is poised to jump and implement the pro-GMO club’s plan to ‘save the continent from the ravages of poverty and starvation.’ And, this time around, ‘the plan’ has the backing of the most powerful government in history, thanks to Obama. Perhaps Africa’s ‘radicals’ can be forgiven for conjuring up images of a modern-day scramble for Africa. Is Obama duty-bound to comfort his ancestry?
Finally, questions persist. Was Obama truly moved to launch NAFNS by compassion for the hungry Africans? Was he brainwashed by the vile agri-businesses on what they can do for the ‘dark continent’? Or was Obama consumed in a bid to apportion a ‘piece of the continent’ for the West in the face of encroaching Chinese economic dragon? In short, did Obama jump or was he pushed?
*James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus) and an independent writer. He is based in South Africa.The views expressed in this blog are those of the author.
Barack Obama and Africa’s Agricultural Revolution: A Dubious Prospect?
January 3, 2013 | 0 Comments
By James Kariuki*
In May this year, US President Barack Obama launched the New Alliance for Food and Nutrition Security (NAFNS.) It is a public-private international initiative intended to eradicate poverty in sub-Saharan Africa within a decade by adopting modern agricultural methods and technology.
Rich G-8 countries are to contribute US$3 billion to NAFNS’ kitty while African and international private companies are to pitch in an equal amount. Presumably, the relevant parties, plus some African governments, will work together harmoniously in an atmosphere where handshakes replace handouts. Should this be celebrated as Obama’s lasting legacy for Africa?
As a concept, the NAFNS may be above reproach, but in practice it poses devastating risks. Will the undertaking be Afro-centric or the domain of ‘external actors’? How will it be shielded from the curse of Africa: corruption? Finally and most importantly, if successful, how will NAFNS be protected from itself: from the temptation to convert into a tool of penetration and abuse of Africa by the non-African partners?
Potentially, NAFNS does have the capacity to boost our continent towards a bona fide agricultural Revolution. Probably, this is what President Obama had in mind. But, behold, Obama will not be US President forever. Indeed we dread that, come January 20, 2013, Mitt Romney could be the man sitting in the White House. Would Romney use NAFNS for a different purpose from Obama? After all, the US does use freely its economic muscle to arm-twist and bully other nations.
In recent months, post-apartheid SA has been under immense American pressure to desist from importing Iranian crude oil or face US economic reprisals. In conjunction with the European Union, the US has targeted Iran for economic sanctions because of its ‘unauthorized’ nuclear program. SA is under unrelenting American psychological siege to do likewise. The ultimate outcome of economic sanctions is that ordinary Iranians will go hungry.
If the RSA yields, it will incur substantial financial costs of transforming its oil refineries to process crude oil from non-Iranian sources. Conversely, if SA does not oblige, a standing command is in place to evict it from the US banking system.
This is a dismal prospect for SA, a country steeped in a deep economic crunch of its own. Thus, thanks to the US recalcitrance, SA finds itself in the unenviable position of ‘I am damned if I do, and I am damned if I don’t.’
It makes logical sense that in this matter SA feels unduly compromised. Despite legitimate concerns over potential proliferation of nuclear weapons in the volatile Middle East, SA does not have a direct quarrel with Iran. Additionally, unlike the US, SA is the only country in the world to ever have ‘de-nuclearized’ voluntarily. Why is it being called upon to pay an economical price by a nuclear USA against Iran in support of a Middle East nuclear Israel? Is this not an unwarranted case of economic bullying? Would the US dare threaten contemporary China with economic sanctions for any reason?
Therein lies the answer. Against the US, SA negotiates from a position of relative weakness. What is the moral of the story? An alliance between weak and strong parties is not tenable or advisable, even if such ‘alliance’ is based on food, as in the case of NAFNS. Already, we know that the US is not above using food in pursuit of political objectives. The American economic sanctions against little Cuba since 1962 is a case in point. That policy is now being pursued elsewhere.
In February this year, the US pledged to supply North Korea with food aid if the impoverished country would desist from its nuclear pursuits. Awhile later, the food offer was revoked on the grounds that North Korea missile launch of April 2012 contravened the food aid offer. The West, including the US, was convinced that the rocket launch was a veiled missile test, not a communication satellite as alleged by North Korea.
Was it political naïveté on the American part to expect political behavior change of an unelected regime on the grounds of a promise for food? Where was the link? The food was never intended for the employees of the regime; it was mainly for children and pregnant women. Further, food is a human right akin to the air that we breathe. It is an aspect of human existence that should be above politics. Even by American standards, to convert food into a political tool was a measure of moral decline.
Given the significance of food, African approach to the African Agricultural Revolution should be self-reliant, an African-driven project. We indeed can and should accept help here and there on condition that it remains ad hoc and subordinate to African will. Is Obama’s NAFNS sensitive to those provisos?
We may not know for certain why NAFNS was created. What is clear, however, is its clear and present danger: its enormous potential to do harm. Given our history, there is something inherently questionable in forming a Western alliance of governments and private enterprises to ‘help’ Africa. It is reminiscent of Otto von Bismarck’s Berlin Conference of 1885 in which Africa was partitioned among Western powers. Additionally, help and private enterprise are conceptually inconsistent, a contradiction in terms. Private businesses are not designed for helping; their raison d’être is profit-making.
Issues become alarming when the matter at hand is food. In a situation of unequal power, NAFNS assigns overwhelming advantage to the stronger party. In the case of NAFNS, the ‘alliance’ amounts to Africa mortgaging its very existence. As Henry Kissinger once said, “If you control the food supply, you control the people.” The former US Secretary of State fully understood that, for a purpose no higher than profit-making, whoever controls food can suddenly bring the other parties to their knees without firing a shot.
The most prominent player among the US private partners with direct links to NAFNS is Monsanto. This is not just another big business it is a giant US-based multinational corporation, the world’s leader in genetically modified crops. Its reach is global: it has its tentacles all over the world, including SA where it has ten offices. It also has claim to a dubious distinction of a scandalous history of legal suits and other controversies in the US and globally. We can survive all that.
What is disconcerting and truly unsettling, however, is the charge that NAFNS is Obama’s conscious design to open doors for “corporate take-over of Africa.” Allegations of his association with Monsato suggest precisely that. Indeed, within the US, the Obama administration has been publicly condemned as having transformed the US Department of Agriculture to the Department of Agribusiness.
* James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus) and an independent writer. He is based in South Africa.The views expressed in this blog are those of the author.