Africa: Clinton's Colonial Roadshow

Revolutionary Worker #951, April 5, 1998

At the end of March, the U.S. presidential road show traveled through one of the most poverty-stricken areas of the world as Bill Clinton toured five African countries south of the Sahara Desert. Eighteen of the world's 20 poorest countries are located here. Excluding South Africa, the total gross national product (GNP) of all countries in sub-Saharan Africa--where 600 million people live--is about the same as the GNP of Belgium, a well-off European country with a population of only 10 million. Every day, 10,000 children die in this region from preventable diseases.

Clinton's trip was advertised as a move toward a "new relationship" between the U.S. and Africa, based on "mutual interest and mutual respect." Clinton said that the U.S. wants to promote investment and trade in order to help these countries become self-reliant, climb out of poverty and undergo a "renaissance." And he performed his trademark "I feel your pain" routine--expressing regret for the U.S. role in the slave trade, apartheid, and the 1994 massacres in Rwanda.

But behind all the talk of a "new relationship" is the reality of imperialist greed and manipulation. While Clinton claims that the African countries are "equal partners," the U.S. is attempting to strengthen the profoundly unequal relationship between U.S. imperialist power and the oppressed countries of Africa.

U.S. Extortion Scheme

Take a look at the African Growth and Opportunity Act now being considered by the U.S. Congress. This legislation was highlighted during the trip as a key part of the U.S. plans for Africa. The bill calls on African countries to sell state-owned companies to private investors and take other measures to "liberalize" the economy and get more in line with "free market" capitalism. Governments that follow this economic formula would be rewarded with lower tariffs and higher quotas for exports to the U.S.

This is crude extortion, imperialist style. The U.S. is threatening the sub-Saharan countries: Make it easier for foreign capitalists to come in and buy up the privatized companies, extract mineral resources and exploit labor cheaply--or you'll find it hard to sell your exports in the U.S.

Randall Robinson of TransAfrica put it very sharply: "This bill nakedly and unqualifiedly promotes the interests of American business. It should be called the African Recolonization Act, because the U.S. and Europe have the money and would grab up the assets."

The Truth About
the Ugandan "Model"

One of the countries Clinton visited was Uganda. The U.S. praises Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni for his "free market reforms." Museveni has sold off government-owned industries to private capitalists, laid off workers, raised taxes and taken other measures that have earned the approval of the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The U.S. points to Uganda's high rate of economic growth as proof that Museveni's policies are a success.

But this capitalist growth and development benefits only a small section of the elite in Uganda--while the country overall remains one of the poorest on earth, with per capita income of $260 a year. In a country ravaged by AIDS, the government's annual spending for health amounts to only $3 per person. In preparation for Clinton's visit, the police in the Ugandan capital of Kampala kicked out hundreds of beggars, street kids and the disabled from downtown streets.

Museveni says that he wants foreign investment in Uganda, not foreign aid, in order to make the country more self-reliant. But a major part of Museveni's economic "success" story is actually based on aid from the U.S. and other major powers--who have a stake in upholding Uganda as a "free market model" for other Third World countries. The World Bank and the IMF provide loans, and foreign aid pays for about 46 percent of the national budget of Uganda.

How can a country be moving toward self-reliance--when almost half the government budget comes from imperialist pockets? Uganda is indeed a "model"--of imperialist penetration and control.

The Problem with
Foreign Investment

Replacing foreign aid with more foreign investment is definitely not a road to self-reliance. Nigeria is a case in point. Huge amounts of foreign investments have poured into this country. But these investments are directed toward the relentless pursuit of oil profit. All other aspects of the economy have been subordinated and sacrificed to the oil industry. Nigeria has built up an external debt of $35 billion, putting this country's economy at the mercy of foreign lenders. Nigeria serves as a major transportation point for heroin traffic from Southeast Asia to Europe and the U.S.--and this drug trade is a big part of this economy. And pollution has devastated the lives of the Ogoni people who live in the oil production areas.

The problem in sub-Saharan Africa--or in any other oppressed country--is not that more foreign investment is needed, or that foreign investment is not used well. The problem is the investments themselves.

These investments--and the capitalist development they promote--are based on super-exploitation. Investment capital comes covered with blood--the blood of the peasants in Mexico forced off the land through the NAFTA treaty, of the women working for pennies a day in Indonesian sweatshops, of the gold miners digging under deadly conditions in South Africa. Foreign investors do not come into countries like Uganda with the intention of helping the people--they come in search of low-cost labor to exploit and valuable resources to plunder.

Imperialist investment, trade and aid do promote a certain kind of development in oppressed countries. But imperialism twists and distorts the economy and society of these countries and prevents them from developing in an all-around way that benefits the masses of people. Capitalist development causes severe polarization--between the small top layer of the rich and the vast majority of poor, between the concentrated wealth of the city and the extreme poverty of the countryside.

As Maoist political economist Raymond Lotta points out, "Economic growth is not, in and of itself, good. The question is what kind of development? And who is this development for?" In countries like Uganda, the development taking place is in the interest of the imperialists and the local ruling class of big capitalists.

What U.S. "Engagement" Has Meant
for the People of Africa

Clinton claimed during the trip that "perhaps the worst sin America ever committed about Africa was the sin of neglect." He said that the U.S. intends to correct this by "engaging" more closely in Africa. This is a cynical attempt to whitewash the many crimes committed by the U.S. in Africa.

One sharp example of what U.S. "engagement" has already meant for Africa is the Congo (Zaire). Under the Democratic Kennedy administration, the CIA was deeply involved in the 1961 assassination of radical nationalist leader Patrice Lumumba. The murder of Lumumba was a key part of U.S. moves to elbow out the old-line European colonial powers in Africa and replace them with U.S. neo-colonialism. Later, the U.S. backed the rise of the Mobutu dictatorship to power. During the '70s and '80s the U.S. sent billions of dollars in aid to build up Mobutu's military and prop up his regime. Meanwhile, Mobutu looted the economy and maintained his rule through brutal repression. Last year, as the Mobutu regime crumbled, the Clinton administration backed the rise of Laurent Kabila as the new strongman for U.S. interests.

In South Africa, the U.S. supported the racist apartheid regime for many years under the policy of "constructive engagement." In Angola and Mozambique, the U.S. backed counterrevolutionary armies waging reactionary wars. The U.S. sent troops to Somalia in 1994 under the guise of a "humanitarian mission"--but it quickly became clear that these soldiers were a bullying army of occupation. These are only a very few of the numerous ugly deeds the U.S. has carried out in Africa.

During the '70s and '80s, the U.S. moves in sub-Saharan Africa were very much connected to the worldwide contention with the rival imperialist bloc headed by the Soviet Union. After the fall of the Soviet Union, this region became less important strategically for U.S. policy makers. But now, the U.S. is making a new push to tighten its hold over this area of the world--at the expense of other powers like France.

Aside from more deeply exploiting the economies of these countries, the U.S. is also forging new military alliances to protect its interests. The Clinton administration's African Crisis Response Initiative provides standardized military training and equipment to a number of countries in the region. Senegal and Uganda, two of the countries Clinton visited, have already signed on--and Washington is trying to get South Africa to join.

Clinton went to Africa posing as a "contrite" leader of a world power now eager to help the African people. But while Clinton expressed regret for the slave trade, the system he represents has criminalized a whole generation of youth in the U.S. Clinton claimed to sympathize with the survivors of the massacres in Rwanda--but the U.S. government waged a cold-blooded genocidal war on Iraq and continues to kill thousands of Iraqi children each month with economic sanctions. Clinton joined Nelson Mandela to visit Robbens Island, where Mandela was held prisoner for two decades under apartheid--as the Jericho '98 march in Washington, D.C. denounced the persecution of political prisoners in the U.S. itself.

Clinton's pledge to get the U.S. more "engaged" in sub-Saharan Africa can bring nothing positive for the masses in these countries. More U.S. involvement only means more imperialist intervention, domination and intrigue--and more oppression for the people.

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