As arguably the richest continent in terms of culture, land, and resources, Africa has made America the richest country in the world. Yet Africa’s population remains the world’s poorest. If we agree that land and people are the greatest resource and that health is the greatest wealth, this paradox will be understood when analyzed within a historical context. Slavery, colonization and post colonial realities have saddled the continent with health deficiencies, environmental degradation, adverse trade agreements, odious debts, wars and widespread political instability that fuel Africa’s economic and political dependency on America and Europe. Without economic independence, Africa has no political independence and therefore, no independence. Africa has never been asked if she prefers a Democrat or Republican in the White House. If this question was posed, it would be answered with a glare: A bomb is a bomb!
AIDS AND HEALTH
Bombs can take many forms. Most casualties of war result not from ammunitions but poverty, disease, and starvation. Home to 11% of the world’s population, sub-Saharan Africa has approximately 70% of the world’s HIV/AIDS population (80% of AIDS deaths). Approximately 7,000 people die in Africa every day from AIDS related diseases. While there is no cure for AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria kills 3 million people yearly even though treatment is effective in 95% of the cases. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 3,000 children die daily from malaria alone—equivalent to six Boeing 747’s packed with children crashing daily. The underlying root of the disease devastation isn’t treatment or cure but otherwise, the pervasiveness of poverty, prevention, access to treatment and rate of infection – all linked.
The Bush administration has committed $15 billion over 5 years to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. While this is the single greatest pledge to this cause by any administration, Republican or Democrat, actual commitments have fallen short and are tied to conditionalities that in fact impede the goal of eliminating the pandemic. A coalition of NGO’s has called the Bush AIDS plan “A gift tightly bound in red tape”. The administration has recently announced that the funding will not just go to Africa and the Caribbean as previously mentioned, but the whole world. This will reduce the amount of funding available to Africa.
The Bush AIDS plan will likely deny Africa access to generic (inexpensive) HIV/AIDS medicine. Former president Clinton was the first President to deny South Africa of generic AIDS medicine and the ability to make its own drugs through the TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) agreement of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Clinton threatened President Nelson Mandela with trade sanctions if South Africa attempted to make its own HIV/AIDS medicine. With over 12% of its population (5 million) suffering from HIV/AIDS, South Africa now has the highest HIV/AIDS population of any country in the world. Clinton is now attempting to redeem himself by providing more access to HIV/AIDS medicine with the so-called Clinton Foundation (philanthropic opportunism). Ironically, the Foundation is facing resistance in providing cheaper HIV/AIDS medicine because of TRIPS, his own trade agreement. Even if the Clinton Foundation was able to overcome these obstacles, medicines would still be cheaper if African countries were allowed to make their own or purchase generics directly from India or Brazil. The same U.S. pharmaceutical corporations blocking universal healthcare for all Americans are blocking humane treatment to Africans. In early 2004, Randall Tobias, former CEO of Eli Lilly, a multinational pharmaceutical corporation, was appointed Global AIDS Coordinator by the Bush administration.
The Bush AIDS initiative will compete with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, as opposed to funding it. The Global Fund, a grant-funded non-profit, was created to dramatically increase resources to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria in the 130 countries that are most devastated. The Bush AIDS initiative, belatedly getting under way 17 months after announcement, is only in 15 countries and does not focus on tuberculosis or malaria, the number one killer of African children. By the end of 2004 budget year, the Bush plan will have committed, but not yet spent, $865 million. $86 million of this appropriation will be earmarked for Christian faith-based organizations promoting abstinence. While the Bush plan focuses on abstinence and treatment, the Global Fund focuses on prevention through education and protection. Lastly, the Global Fund, as opposed to the Bush plan, saves significantly on administrative costs by only serving as a financial instrument and relying on local talents for implementation.
Emphasizing that the AIDS crisis is still in its infancy, the United Nations (UN) estimates that over 100 million people will be living with HIV/AIDS by 2010. The WHO has come up with a “3 by 5” plan to provide 3 million people with antiretroviral AIDS medicine by 2005. The UN reported that there were 3 million deaths and 5 million new HIV/AIDS infections in 2003. Unfortunately, the WHO’s “3 by 5” will put a small dent in the estimated 45 million people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, to say nothing of new yearly infections. Currently, less than 1% of the HIV/AIDS population in Africa has access to treatment. Additionally, there has been very little research done in testing the effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs in combating HIV1 and HIV2 and in determining which version of HIV the drugs are responsive to. If 7,000 Europeans were dying daily from HIV/AIDS related diseases, would cost and access to drugs be an issue? AIDS has lowered life expectancy in most of Southern Africa to just 38 years of age. Billions of dollars are exhausted daily in fighting the potential threat of terrorism while immediate threats to global stability like the HIV/AIDS pandemic are ignored.
TRADE AND ENVIRONMENT
Multi-national corporations are at the forefront of the most horrific environmental degradation and human rights abuses occurring in Africa today. A significant portion of the raw materials in America still come from Africa today. Of course, U.S. corporations would never be able to rape Africa without the funding of dictatorships and provision of military arms by the US government. American economist talk about the invisible hand of the market and Africans feel the impact of the invisible fist. Trade between the U.S. and Africa has always stood at direct contradiction with social services and human needs. From agriculture to industry, the impact of U.S. corporations has worsened since colonization, as trade agreements are signed by puppet leaders that are put in power to represent corporate interest. Sound familiar?
The African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA), which has been referred to as the NAFTA (North-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement) of Africa, was created to grant duty (tax) free imports to products shipped between the U.S. and Africa. Initially passed by former President Clinton in 2000 to extend “benefits” until 2007, AGOA has most recently been extended by President Bush until 2015. AGOA is the only U.S. trade agreement, multi-lateral or bi-lateral, requiring countries to meet an extensive list of unilateral conditions (conditionalities) before being granted the “benefits” of the agreement. These conditionalities include but are not limited to:
* removal of price controls and subsidies while the US continues to subsidize its products for hundreds of billions of dollars yearly,
* insistence on trade liberalization and elimination of barriers to US trade and investment,
* privatization of social services such as water, even in places that experience frequent droughts,
* reduction in government ownership of economic assets and protection of intellectual property rights (TRIPS) and
* refrain from activities that undermine US foreign policy objectives.
One of AGOA’s main selling points was that it would help African countries develop its textile industry. Yet, under the AGOA bill as framed by the Clinton administration, yarn and fabric used to make textiles and apparels had to be made either in the U.S. or an eligible African country. As a consequence, African countries were forced to pay high prices for thread and yarn from US factories, have it shipped to Africa to be sewn, and then re-shipped to the US for sale. The Bush administration has made some improvements in this area, granting access to imported apparels made with U.S. fabric or yarn and any apparel wholly assembled in Africa. Even with all the hype, textiles and apparels account for less than 5% of total AGOA sales. Oil sales from just two west African countries--Nigeria and Gabon--accounted for over 90% of total AGOA sales in the first nine months of 2001. African Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) have organized campaigns in response to AGOA, calling the agreement colonial, anti-democratic, and economically disastrous for Africa. AGOA’s main purpose is to give U.S. corporations access to slave labor and tax-free energy-related imports to US markets. Africans are worse off and less revenue is generated from US imports. AGOA should be renamed the American Growth Opportunity Act.
Another agreement that is similar and colonial in nature is the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). NEPAD is also centered on trade liberalization, privatization, and deregulation. Unlike AGOA which primarily focuses on trade between US and Africa, NEPAD is an economic “development” plan that opens African markets to the U.S. and to Africa’s former colonial masters in Europe. Funded by the G8 countries (the seven largest economies and Russia), NEPAD’s dictates naturally come from the G8. Agreements between the G8 countries and Africa have increased income inequality globally and within Africa to the highest levels in the world. South Africa, for example, recently surpassed Brazil as having the highest inequality of distribution of wealth of any country in the world.
Another characteristic that is similar about all of the trade agreements regardless of who’s in the White House is the environmental degradation and injustices in Africa. In 1995, Ken Saro Wiwa, an environmentalist and human rights activist, was hung with 8 other leaders (“The Ogoni Nine”) by the dictatorship of Sani Abacha for peaceful protest against Shell Oil in the Ogoni region of Nigeria. Gas flares—the burning of natural gas and waste into the atmosphere in the process of extracting crude oil—has produced a severe pollution crisis in the Niger Delta. Nigeria, with flaring rates of 75% (the highest in the world) while other oil producing nations flare at 3%, is particularly vulnerable to the effects of global warming and sea level rising. Environmental abuse and oil spills in Ogoni have resulted in:
* the destruction of trees, seasonal fishing, and farming
* flooding, acid rain, and contamination of water supplies
* an increase in prostitution traffic with high paid male oil workers
* respiratory illnesses
* hearing loss
* childbirth defects
* skin problems
* an increase in violence due to bribes to the military by oil companies to suppress dissent.
Even though $300 billion worth of oil has been pumped from the Niger delta in the last four decades, the Ogoni people are among the poorest on the continent. Once self-sufficient, the Ogoni now have to rely on multinational oil companies for their survival. Since the Nigerian government receives over 90% of its revenue from oil, gas flaring will likely continue until it becomes profitable for multinational oil corporations to mitigate flares. For all the trade agreements and environmental and human sacrifice, Africa’s share of world trade is currently 1%—less than half what it was in 1980. Trade agreements from the West and Europe prevent the development of intra-African trade, which could create additional markets for African products. Africa’s heavy dependence on exports of primary commodities and imports of finished goods expose the continent to environmental abuse, price volatilities, and huge trade deficits, resulting in increased debt obligations.
Odious debts have plagued Africa since it gained “independence” from Europe. Most of Africa’s debts are owed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB), celebrating its 60th birthday this year since conception at the Bretton Woods conference in 1944. Africa will not be partaking in this celebration. In reality the conditions of the IMF and WB debts have existed long before 1944. In 1804, after Haiti had fought for and won independence from its French colonizers, it was soon burdened with debt of 90 million gold francs in 1825, supposedly representing lost revenues by France in the absence of colonization. Today, Africa’s debt to the IMF and WB stands at over $300 billion. It is likely that this number represents lost revenues for Europe and America since the monies have not benefited Africa but resulted in increased poverty. $15 billion is transferred yearly from the poorest countries in Africa and the world to the richest countries in the form of interest payments. African countries have seen interest rates balloon to the upper 40% in hard economic times while the U.S. Federal Reserve lowers interest rates to 1% during recessions. African countries are unjustly required to develop economically under conditions opposite to those under which Europe and America developed.
In order to qualify for IMF and WB loans, African countries have to abide by structural adjustment programs (SAP’s) which have five main characteristics:
* Reduction of government spending on health, education, and social programs
* Privatization and deregulation of state owned enterprises
* Devaluation of currency to increase earnings for exports
* Liberalization of imports to open markets to foreign goods and removal of restrictions on foreign investments
* Lowering of wages and elimination of mechanisms protecting labor.
These initiatives, intended to help African countries develop, instead undermined African economies and social programs, increasing poverty while opening up markets to multi-national corporations. SAP’s are designed to transform economies from local-market producers to globalized models of production and export for hard currency used to pay interest on debt. The IMF and WB loans are set up to only make interest payments so that the ever-increasing principal is never paid off. Most of the loans have been paid off two, three, or four times over but the payments have gone to interest alone.
Even though SAP’s were instituted under the Reagan administration, it was not until the 1990’s that, under the Clinton administration (with the help of the WTO and increased military funding) that the IMF and WB became most devastating to Africa. According to the Jubilee debt campaign, the 1990’s saw escalating trade liberalization policies which resulted in record lost jobs and a destruction of livelihoods. In 1997, in response to the public outcry for debt relief to alleviate the devastating policies of the SAP’s, the IMF and WB instituted the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC). In its aim to reduce debt levels in Africa to sustainable measures, HIPC has been an utter failure, as countries are still required to follow SAP’s to qualify for HIPC. Some countries have seen their debt level rise under HIPC. Since Uganda’s HIPC “debt reduction,” its debt has ballooned 279%, 80% of which was borrowed for IMF and WB SAP’s. Although Uganda’s finance minister, Gerald Ssendaula, warned that debt levels should be limited to $200 million/year to be sustainable, Uganda has another $1.2 billion of loans in the pipeline. Debt is one of the ways that Africa’s former colonial masters keep a stronghold on the continent, even if it means forced lending for projects that don’t exist. Iraq is receiving debt cancellation, supposedly because its debts were incurred under a dictatorship. Most of Africa’s debts were incurred under dictatorships that were put in power by the same countries collecting interest on that debt. This vicious cycle has led to an economic destabilization that furthers political instability and warfare.
WARS AND POLITICAL INSTABILITY
The mainstream media’s characterization of African wars as rooted in tribal conflicts is not only careless but racist. BBC News has reported that there are enough weapons in Africa for one out of every 20 persons to have small arms. Most of the military assistance and small arms in Africa comes from America today. The National Rifle Association has systematically refused efforts to curb small arms trade in Africa and throughout the world. The U.S. International Military and Training Program provides training to African military officers from more than 44 countries, at U.S. bases. The U.S. has increased funding for the program from $8.8 million in 2001 to $11.1 million in 2003. Since September 2001, the U.S. has maintained a military base in Djibouti, East Africa. The U.S. is also considering another military base in Sao Tome in West Africa—to safeguard access to oil fields. Most of Africa’s dictators that fuel civil wars have received support from both parties in the U.S. government. The U.S. bears great historical responsibility for conflicts that have destabilized such African countries as Angola, Liberia, Congo, Somalia and many more. The billions of dollars worth in military aid (arms) given to African dictatorships during the Cold War have resulted in continuing violence and political instability.
The 30-year war in southern Sudan is said to be driven by the discovery of crude oil reserves and gold. Darfur, in western Sudan, is currently experiencing destabilization fueled by the Khartoum government’s response to the uprising by rebel movements in early 2003. The US has had sanctions on the Sudan government since 1997 but could be looking at opportunities of oil extractions in a destabilization of the largest country on the continent. While much attention is focused on Sudan, civil war in neighboring Congo has cost 2 to 3 million lives since 1998, said to be the highest death toll of any war since WWII. One of the richest countries in the world in terms of mineral wealth, the Congo is one of many examples of how conflicts are misrepresented in Africa. As the third largest country in Africa, the Congo sits on some of the richest gold and diamond deposits in the world and possesses newly discovered oil reserves. The Congo is also rich in rubber and ivory. It has the world’s second richest rainforest, where logging is set to take place on advice of the WB without the consultation of people residing in the area. The Congolese depend on the rainforest for natural medicines, small scale farms, fruits, oils, and gaming. The deforestation of the Congo could very well result in the first environmental catastrophe of the 21st century. Despite the Congo’s wealth of natural resources, the WB estimates that the per capita income in the Congo is presently the lowest in the world, at $90 per year. Its communities will likely be further impoverished by the logging. Bechtel and Barrick Gold are two of the many multi-national corporations fueling the wars for control of the Congo’s mineral wealth.
Warfare in the Congo has less to do with tribal or regional politics than with control of its resources by multinational corporations. Dating back to Belgian colonial rule, Congolese conflicts have been fed by the Cold War and U.S. imperialism. In trying to control the Congo’s mineral wealth, the Belgians murdered more than 15 million Congolese in the first 30 years of rule. After Congolese “independence” was achieved in 1960, the Belgian government, with support from both the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, conspired to shape the post-independence climate in the country.
The first and only democratically elected Prime Minister of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba was murdered a few months after taking office—by the Belgian government with the support of the CIA and UN “peacekeepers”—for advocating economic independence from the U.S. and Europe. After Lumumba’s assassination, the CIA installed the dictatorship of Mobutu Seko, who ruled for over 31 years, killing thousands and looting billions. Ronald Reagan referred to Mobutu as the best friend of the U.S. in Africa. Mobutu’s brutal dictatorship was overthrown by Laurent Kabila in 1997. During ongoing civil wars, Kabila was assassinated in 2001 and succeeded by his son Joseph Kabila, the youngest President/dictator in the world, at 32 years of age. Instead of describing the Congo as a breeding ground for mindless tribal killings, the country would be more accurately described as caught in the middle of competition between the U.S. and Europe for strategic control of one of the richest areas of mineral and land wealth in the world.
The U.S. continues to depend on raw materials from Africa: manganese for steel; cobalt and chrome for alloys; gold, fluorspar, and germanium for industrial diamonds. Zimbabwe and South Africa control 98% of the world’s chrome reserves. Congo and Zambia possess 50% of the world‘s cobalt reserves. South Africa alone accounts for 90% of world reserves of metals in the platinum group. The U.S. currently receives 12% of its oil from Africa; this number is projected to reach 25% by 2015. Unless there is a shift in focus from fossil fuel to renewable energy, more warfare and catastrophe are sure to occur.
In 1994, Rwanda witnessed 3 months of genocide and the murder of 900,000 people, without President Clinton lifting a finger. Ten years later, President Bush is standing idly by as Sudan is experiencing its own bloodshed. Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola, the Congo, and Ivory Coast are all destabilized from civil wars. Liberia for example became a U.S. colony in 1847 when it was established by wealthy Americans with “freed” slaves. U.S. corporations like Firestone established the world’s largest rubber plantation there in 1926, while the indigenous people remained impoverished. Liberia has lost one twelfth of its 3 million people in civil warfare. 50% of the country’s population is below 15 years of age. Most are child soldiers.
Hope for Africa doesn’t lie with the US Democratic or Republican platforms, nor with the UN. Hope for Africa lies in self-determination and self-reliance. This will only happen when Africans take control of their own resources, economics, politics, and societies. Hope finds expression in South Africans’ ongoing challenge to the new apartheid of corporate neoliberalism and a white minority that still controls 85% of the land. Hope is reflected in the Ogoni people’s struggle against western oil companies and their government backers. Hope endures amid communities in the Congo organizing to prevent illegal logging in their rainforest. Africa will become self-sufficient through these struggles to control its own wealth.
The Nader/Camejo Campaign is aware that African countries face urgent crises in many parts of the continent. Africa is at the mercy of Europe and America for its imposed dependency on them for its defense and basic survival. African countries import weapons to defend itself, finished goods to feed itself and clothes and medicine to heal itself. Meanwhile, everything it needs is denied or shipped abroad. Africa’s population continues to be exaggerated by Europe and the west. Even though Africa is the most under-populated continent per square mile, Washington (through USAID) continues to spend hundreds of millions of dollars yearly on population control programs. More research is needed into both the origin of HIV/AIDS and the many ways in which the disease is spreading. The “African green monkey” theory is insufficient, as the African monkeys have somehow infected the men and women behind the bars of the prison-industrial complex, where we have one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in America. The plan of the Millennium Development Goal to halve worldwide poverty by 2015 is behind schedule and ill-conceived. Africa has enough wealth to feed the world; therefore, poverty can be eliminated.
The Nader/Camejo ticket supports the self-determination of Africans to control their own resources. We understand that multi-national corporations are preventing this realization. We oppose and condemn every corporation fueling environmental and human rights abuses in Africa. We support immediate funding for generic AIDS medicine and adequate provision of cures and treatments for tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases—without inhumane conditionalities encouraging Africans to rely on their own traditional methods of healing. We support fair trade (as opposed to free trade) and therefore call for a repeal of the AGOA bill and all other trade agreements currently ravaging Africa’s environment and undermining such basic human needs such as food, water, and shelter. The Nader/Camejo Campaign supports the Jubilee Act (HR 4511), calling for 100% cancellation of all illegitimate and odious debts owed to the IMF and WB by countries in the global south, most of which are in Africa. Furthermore, the Nader/Camejo Campaign believes that the IMF, WB, and multi-national corporations owe restitution to Africa for centuries of plunder, exploitation, and human rights abuses. To that end, we call for an audit of all debts owed to the IMF and WB in order to assess the unfair conditions imposed on Africa and determine the amount of reparations owed by the IMF, WB, and their corporate masters. We also reject the use of Africa’s extractive resources for funding dictatorships and despotic regimes that fuel civil warfare with U.S. military support. We support true democracies in which African people make decisions about their political and economic cooperation, without interference or imposition by the U.S. government. We would only support humanitarian intervention through the funding of African military peacekeepers in crisis and genocidal circumstances.
Washington, DC, home to the House, Senate, and US President is the only district in America where there is a majority population of people of African descent for whom voting is denied at both the House and Senate levels. The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has failed to sign up millions of eligible non-registered African Americans in other districts and is complacent on many issues that concern the African American, Palestine and the African continent. The District of Columbia (DC) has the highest level of organized resistance, peace, and justice groups working for change of any district in America. Yet DC also has the highest rates for HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy, child poverty, homelessness and homicide, among others. How does one remedy this irony? Meet the Peace and Justice (non-profit) industrial complex in the Africa of America. Real solutions must incorporate our breaking away from the chains (funding) of our oppressors to assert self-sufficiency. Through collaboration, our resistance will impact at the local, national, and global levels to create an alternative lifestyle. Of all donor countries, the US ranks last, with only 0.1% of its GNP (about $10 billion) going to foreign aid worldwide. Sub-Saharan Africa receives 1/100th of 1% ($1 billion) of US GNP in aid.
Africa does not need “aid.” Africa needs the multi-national corporations exploiting its natural resources to leave. One day Africa will reclaim its indigenous names all over the continent, in addition to Egypt and Ethiopia. One day Africa will know the legacy of her civilization prior to the Arab and European invasion. One day, Africa will be free.
Shomade is the finance officer for the Ralph Nader Presidential
campaign. He was born and raised in Lagos Nigeria and has lived in the
United States for 14 years. He sits on the local DC Board of The American
Friends Service Committee and Black Voices for Peace working on a number of
issues from debt relief in Africa, the AIDS crisis and fighting for peace
and justice in the US and abroad. He can be reached at: