Bush in the Bush William Bowles

8 July 2003

Today, Bush arrives in Senegal where he’ll visit Goree Island, one of the locations from which an estimated 20 million slaves started their long journey to the Americas. Half of the 20 million never made it. And no doubt, Bush will make a speech about America’s commitment to ‘freedom’ and to Africa, blah-blah-blah…. He’ll talk about America’s desire to fight AIDs, poverty and the lack of economic progress. Of course he won’t mention the 200 billion dollars in subsidies pledged to America’s agri-business over the next few years, nor the effects of ‘structural adjustment’ in destroying the economies of many of Africa’s struggling neo-colonies. And will he mention the long list of African dictators installed or supported by the US over the past fifty years in its alleged fight against communism? Don’t bet on it because you’ll lose.

And you can be sure that he won’t mention the fact that half of all African-Americans between the ages of 15 and 25 end up in US prisons. Or that the mortality rate for this age group is several orders of magnitude higher than for all other demographic groups in the US. Ditto the suicide rate. Will he tell his Senegalese hosts that many of the descendants of those millions of slaves who started out in chains four hundred years ago, ended up in chains in 21st century America?

In return of course, he’ll want a commitment from Africa’s governments to fight the ‘war on terror.’ He’ll want to make sure that Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and Angola continue to supply the US with 15% of its oil needs (rising to 25%). He’ll want to make sure that US products have unfettered access to African markets. The much vaunted billions in ‘aid’ for AIDS will no doubt, have the same ‘strings attached’ that all so-called US aid has, namely that it’s spent in America.

So why is Dubya visiting the ‘dark continent’? American presidents have only visited the continent of Africa three times, that’s how much they value Africa, not that a visit by a titular head means much except in PR terms. Yet there is a common perception that the much vaunted ‘values’ of US democracy have somehow bypassed Africa. In the words of one writer, most of Africa now belongs to the ‘Terminal World,’ essentially surplus to requirement. It’s fallen off the edge of the planet. It’s the ‘basket case’ continent. With the end of the Cold War it no longer has any strategic value. Economically, it’s real productive wealth has fallen dramatically since the 1970s. Aside from South Africa and the oil-producing states, it’s perceived as a continent of peasant subsistence agriculture and internecine wars that as Dubya, in a brief moment of honesty stated, ‘is of no strategic significance [to the US].’

But perceptions are important and not only that, if the Anglo-American empire is to succeed in its conquest of the world, it can hardly afford to leave Africa out of the equation even if it is low on the list of regions that need ‘pacifying’. It could be a source of ‘trouble’ as its brief mission in Somalia taught it. And of course, as the USUK project extends its reach into North Africa(Libya being high on its list of countries requiring a regime change), over time, bringing Africa under its control will assume increasing importance.

Much will hinge on the role that the West would like to see South Africa play in being the ‘policeman’ of Africa, now that it has a (nominally) black governing class, even though its economy is totally integrated into the developed world. Hence Bush’s visit includes one to South Africa, where, no doubt, he’ll let Mbeki know what the deal is (including a very public snub of Mandela, that has already hit the headlines). Will he get the ANC government’s blessing?

The visit presents Mbeki with a real dilemma as the ANC government came out quite forcefully against the invasion of Iraq. At the same time, the much vaunted ‘special relationship’ that Clinton formed with the ANC during the transition to democracy in 1994, was intimately connected to the relationship the ANC had with New Labour and the Democratic Party. Both the Labour Party and the Democratic Party supplied the ANC with strategic and financial assistance in the planning of the 1994 election campaign (both parties gave the ANC direct access to their election campaign organisers). USAID gave the ANC millions of dollars in financial support. And the ANC’s economic programme is essentially a right-wing Blairite clone, consisting of the wholesale privatisation of state resources, a refusal to invest in job creation and in general, it has pursued a variant of the Thatcher/Blair so-called neoliberal economic agenda. Since the 1994 democratic elections, 500,000 jobs have disappeared in South Africa.

On the political front however, Mbeki is pursuing a ‘populist’ line, hence his reluctance to publicly condemn Mugabe. In playing what is in effect, the ‘race’ card, Mbeki is hoping to maintain the support of the Black masses through appeals to ‘Africanness’ much as Mugabe has done. Yet unless there are real gains in jobs, education, health and housing, the ‘populist’ line could backfire in a big way, just as it has done in Zimbabwe.

But as with all countries of the poor world, the ANC government is caught between a rock and a hard place. Desperate to gain access to markets controlled either by the US or the EU, it has to tread a fine line between placating its domestic population and pursuing policies which have the blessing of the IMF and the World Bank, in other words, Washington DC. And South Africa is in a lot better position to bargain than most are. Over 90% of Africa’s GDP is actually South Africa’s. Its expansion into African markets means South Africa is now Africa’s leading player in telecommunications/media, electricity generation, mining, beer production and the retail food markets. South Africa has one of the world’s most sophisticated banking and financial services industry which is rapidly gaining dominance in many African countries. Collectively, they dominate the Southern African region completely.

Bush will no doubt be offering support to the ANC government for Mbeki’s new African initiative (NAD), in the fight against AIDS, financial support for South African peacekeeping forces and perhaps preferential access to the US market for South African goods, in return of course, for supporting Bush’s ‘war on terror’.

And no doubt a similar line will be pursued in Nigeria given its strategic significance through its oil and also as the most populous of African countries and the fact that there is a close relationship between Nigeria and South Africa. Gaining the support of both countries will be critical to Bush’s African agenda but it remains to be seen whether he can pull it off.

The future of Mbeki’s vision for Africa depends almost entirely on bringing to an end the various conflicts in the DRC, Uganda, Liberia, Sierra Leone and elsewhere on the continent. Yet the cause of these conflicts remains essentially economic (in spite of all the racist propaganda peddled in the Western media about the ‘tribal’ and ‘ethnic’ causes). Bush has no remedy for this. Indeed, it’s US policies which are the root cause of the economic and social breakdown of so many African countries. Bush will fly in, make appropriate noises and then fly home, beyond that, expect no changes, it’ll be business as usual.”

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