The picture sent out over the newswire a few months back was poignant: The Reverend Andrew Young in tears, and holding on to the Reverend Jesse Jackson for support at the ground-breaking ceremonies for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial being built in Washington, D.C. These two pillars of the U.S. civil rights movement had come together — along with President George W. Bush, former President Bill Clinton and a number of other dignitaries — to honor Dr. King.
These days, however, while Jackson continues to be a fully-involved civil rights activist, Young has taken a different path. He has not only recently been an apologist for one of the architects of the Iraq War, he has long been involved in image laundering for such worker unfriendly multinational corporations as Wal-Mart and Nike.
Last December, Young, the former executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, two-term mayor of Atlanta, former Congressman, and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, introduced Paul Wolfowitz — the former Deputy Secretary of Defense who was one of the chief architects of the War in Iraq and who is now mired in scandal as head of the World Bank — to the audience at a synagogue in Atlanta.
“The more I read about Paul Wolfowitz, the more I realized we had in common,” said Young. “We had a common mentor, [in former Secretary of State] George Schultz… We had come from a completely different direction but found ourselves with a common agenda, to spread peace.”
In late April, before Wolfowitz was forced to resign from the World Bank due to ethical lapses, Young wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post vigorously defending his character. Soon after the op-ed appeared it came out that that Wolfowitz had arranged a promotion for his female companion, Shaha Ali Riza, in 2005.
Young, who had been a close confidant of the late Martin Luther King Jr., praised Wolfowitz in the Post for not only advocating the removal of Saddam Hussein from Iraq, but also for taking the problems of Africa seriously. Young also expressed hope that Wolfowitz would be forgiven for his misjudgments.
During an interview on PBS’ NewsHour, Young referred to the World Bank controversy over Wolfowitz as “bureaucratic crap,” and he called Wolfowitz’s critics at the World Bank “bunglers.”
“His commitment and aggressiveness in promoting African development … have been welcomed by those who love Africa and the developing world as well as by those willing to admit the complicity of the haves in the crisis of the have-nots,” Young wrote in the Washington Post.
In early May Young celebrated his 75th birthday at a star-studded bash in Atlanta designed to raise funds for his foundation. The gala was attended by some 1,400 guests including former president Bill Clinton; Dr. Maya Angelou; actresses Angela Bassett and Jane Fonda; and comedian Chris Tucker.
In 1967 — before public sentiment had turned against the War in Vietnam and despite the wishes of some of his closest advisors — the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., courageously spoke out against that war. In an historic speech Dr. King clearly linked the struggle for civil rights at home to a sane and humane foreign policy.
These days, in addition to defending the likes of Wolfowitz, Young works as an international business consultant, co-founding, with Carlton Masters, a company called GoodWorks International (website), a consulting firm devoted to cleansing the images of controversial multinational corporations.
“For years Young has traded on the dwindling stock of personal credibility owing to his participation in the Freedom Movement of the 1960s,” Bruce Dixon wrote in the Black Agenda Report (BAR) late last year.
“His consultation consists of press conferences, media events, interviews, public appearances and speeches, in which he shills for Big Oil in West Africa, privatizers in the Caribbean, Nike and Wal-Mart world-wide. His firm, GoodWorks International is credited with teaching the famously corrupt Nigerian [former] President Olusegun Obasanjo, a brand new American-style way to solicit bribes — the creation of Africa’s first ‘presidential library,’” Dixon, the managing editor of BAR, pointed out.
In mid-February, the International Herald Tribune pointed out that Obasanjo had spirited away “as much as $600 billion in ill-gotten gains sitting in foreign bank accounts while the rural farmers live on less than one dollar a day.” The paper accused Obasanjo of “monopolizing power the day he entered office,” and of keeping “the oil portfolio for himself so that he could use Nigeria’s vast oil wealth for political ends.”
“Who benefits from Andy Young’s relationship with the government of Nigeria? It’s not the Nigerian people,” Ken Silverstein, a reporter for Harper’s magazine, asked. “As I see it, the primary beneficiaries of his work in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa are those corrupt, authoritarian regimes he works with and his private corporate clients.”
One Atlanta native who has been paying close attention to Young is Cynthia McKinney, the former congresswoman from Georgia. “This is not the first time that Andy Young has associated with people of dubious repute,” McKinney told the Black Agenda Report. “During the time when I came under severe attack for my September 11 comments, I was investigating allegations that Barrick Gold and its mining operations in Africa had buried 60 African petty gold miners. I had been given a photograph, and I had eyewitness testimony that this had taken place. Unfortunately, Barrick Gold had some of the most notorious people associated with it, and Andy Young was part that cabal. So, the financial arrangement that one enters into … one has to be careful where you get your paycheck from. And certainly, if you’re going to sit on the boards of companies like that, you ought to serve as a conscience, not just as an employee receiving a paycheck.”
Regarding Wolfowitz, McKinney told BAR that he “was one of the architects of the disastrous military and foreign policy — and, of course, domestic policy — that the Bush administration has pursued. I include domestic policy because, if you’re spending all of your money on guns then there’s very little to spend on butter — and the American people need butter. So, that diversion from satisfying the needs of the American people is a consequence of the policies pursued by … Wolfowitz when he was at the Pentagon. Wolfowitz, in my opinion, has no business being at the World Bank. It tells me something about the World Bank and its mission, because this is not a man of peace, this is not a man of development, this is a man who has destroyed the cradle of civilization.”
“More than anything else, World Bank and IMF policies of structural adjustment, forced upon developing countries around the world are directly responsible for starvation and the inability of those countries to provide for the basic needs of their people,” according to Keith Jennings. “You can draw a straight line between the Paul Wolfowitz who instigated the invasion of Iraq, the Paul Wolfowitz who sits atop the World Bank… It’s been a long time since the days Young walked with Dr. King. Young’s choice of friends these days shows just how far he has traveled.”
In an e-mail interview with Media Transparency, Bruce Dixon, who is working on a book with Glen Ford tentatively titled “Barack Obama & the Crisis of Black American Leadership,” said that “Young’s career is especially interesting because his arc from the Freedom Movement to public office to international business consultant is emblematic of that thin slice of movement and post-movement folks who were poised to take immediate personal advantage of the doors that the Freedom Movement opened up.”
Getting involved with controversial companies has become Young’s calling card today and it has cost him in a large part of the African American community. Dixon, who has been aware of Young since the early 1970s when he ran for Congress, and later when he served as UN ambassador under Jimmy Carter, maintains that Young’s “credibility has pretty much eroded among just about everyone who pays attention to his recent business affairs. While he still has a number of hard core defenders in the institutions for which he works, and he has friends that seem to hope to do business, that set is pretty small.”
Dixon told Media Transparency that in a critique of Young published last year by the Black Commentator, he had pointed out that “It’s as though after liberation Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu accepted positions on the board of Anglo American Mining, DeBeers, and Boeing, and spent the next two decades as globetrotting consultants putting out fires for the World Bank, lending privatizers, money launderers and others a little of the borrowed respectability of the movement for human liberation they spent their earlier careers working in. If you think structural adjustment and the current world economic order are good things, you’ve got to love Andy Young. If you think these are murderous abominations, you’re on the other side.”
During a recent interview with the New York Times, Young pointed out that “For 40 years of my life I was on the outside seeking change. I realized that I could be more effective being on the inside implementing it.” Femi Falana, president of the West African Bar Association, put it another way: “Andrew Young has never been interested in these [humanitarian] issues. He is just here making money.”