Obama’s big joke! By Antoine Roger Lokongo

selfie_1113744c Brahim Senouci recently wrote a piece in his blog which well depicted an Africa at the crossroads. According to Senouci, ‘of course, slavery and forced conversions to Islam and Christianity have disappeared in Africa. Yesterday’s indigenous overwhelmingly live in free countries. Westerners have finally accepted to bow to the will of independence of the people they have long enslaved [Adam Hochschild is the author of ‘King Leopold’s Ghost – the history of the Belgian Congo’ and has just published a new book titled: ‘Bury the Chains’]. It is clear, however, that this new world order has not led to the widespread economic welfare, remains more or less confined to the Western sphere. Above all, the liberation of African people remains largely theoretical. Most of them still find themselves in an uneven position vis-à-vis their former colonial powers who continue to dictate their political and economic paths and even influence the selection of their leaders!’

As Charles Onunaiju recalled in an article published in the Nigerian Punch on 11 August 2014, ‘for over 50 years since most of African states became independent from classical colonial rule, the continent’s natural resources were ruthlessly exploited and expropriated by her western partners, including the US, which monopolistically fixed both the costs and terms of resource extractions and the prices they paid for such. For as long as this very unfair market relationship existed between Africa and the West, the continent was blighted with the incremental paradox of the development of under-development with consequences of political instability and social tensions. The contemporary political challenges and crises of growth without development in Africa owe mainly to the past relationships of Africa with the West. The structural dependency of Africa on the West was the key factor in the disarticulation of the continent’s internal economic integration. The legacy of that structural dependency was more acute in the lack of any meaningful infrastructural connect within the continent.’

No other event encapsulates that truth more than the recently held USA-Africa summit. During the summit, the United States pledged to increase its economic flows, in terms of investments to Africa up to USD 33 billion. And Africans applauded!

However, this was Obama’s big joke because if you divide the $33 billion by 54 African countries, each country would receive nearly $6 million. Fidel Castro was right to say that ‘Americans put Obama, whose father is an African, in the White House to cover up American imperialism with a big smile.’ In a country attacked by the United States through the Tutsi regimes of Rwanda and Uganda such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), you can’t rebuild much with $6 million! But if the DRC government raised its stakes in each mining contract it signed with North American companies up to 51 percent to turn them into win-win contracts (which is highly unlikely!), the Congolese state could generate $33 billion per year.

At the same time, to give an idea of what we are talking about, oil, gas and mineral exports from Africa, including to the United States were worth US$382 billion in 2011 alone – more than eight times the value of official development aid received by African countries that year. Africa’s trade with the US was only $100 billion in 2012 (ONE Policy Brief Report, 6 June 2013). Take oil imports alone. US imports from Africa consist of 89 percent oil alone, less than China whose oil represents 66 percent of imports from Africa. (See, Raluca Besliu, YaleGlobal, 1 August 2013). At the same time, illicit financial outflows from Africa to the West, including to the United States, are estimated at up to $200 billion annually (Oxfam International report, 6 May 2013).

We really have to ask ourselves: Who is enriching whom? ‘Who refuses to buy the Congolese cobalt,’ wondered Mzee Laurent Kabila, DRC’s assassinated president. These are fundamental questions! We are witnessing a kind of recolonisation of Africa with the consent of Africans themselves! That is why the great lion of Africa Robert Mugabe, who refuses Americans and Israelis as advisers in his cabinet and who maintains a very good relationship with China, was not invited to this kind of ‘Second Berlin Conference’; but the likes of Kagame and Museveni (Museveni has already stood for a third term and America said nothing! What happened in Rwanda in 1994 has become an excuse for everything. One day the whole truth will come out, if it has not already done so!), worst criminals in the 21st century Africa, were invited. Now we know! It is now in the United States where African leaders go to buy a second legitimacy after being ‘elected’ by their people. Besides they want this circus to take place every year.

‘I have no other masters except my people,’ said Mzee Kabila. On the contrary, recently Kagame threw a tantrum over his erstwhile Western backers, calling them ‘former colonial masters who do not stop lecturing Africans’. However, he was later caught in his own trap when he boycotted the ‘Summit on Peace and Security in the African Continent’ ,convened by the French President François Hollande in Paris on 6 December 2013. For Rwanda, there was no question of attending the summit. ‘Those who feel they still need the protection of the former colonial master will go to this meeting. This is not our case,’ a close associate of Paul Kagame told Jeune Afrique (see: ‘Sommet sur la paix et la sécurité à Paris: le Rwanda décline l’invitation,’ 19 June 2013, available at Jambonews.net). A short while later, Kigali welcomed the invitation from U.S. President Barack Obama to attend the historic summit of leaders from across sub-Saharan Africa – the first of its kind – held in Washington in August 2014. Kagame was indeed caught in his own trap – having declined the invitation of France, he nevertheless accepted that of Obama. What difference could there be in the invitations of the two Western masters? It is because the United States shields Kagame from being held accountable for genocide in Congo? After all, he is only playing the role of ‘an Anglo-American proxy’ in Congo, as he has done ‘so well’ for the last 20 years.

This ‘Second Berlin Conference’ took place because the involvement of non-western powers especially China is currently challenging the critical obstacle of Western control, stranglehold and monopoly in Africa which must be overcome if Africa is to attain sustainable development, as Charles Onunaiju put it. He correctly pointed out as well that whether the summit sought to seriously engage Africa in long-term comprehensive and productive relations or it was a mere knee-jerk reaction to Africa’s rising global profile to which many important actors, especially China have already constructively engaged, will be clearer in the future. In fact, the volume of Sino-African trade has already reached USD 280 billion. This is why China was at the center of all the debates of this USA-Africa summit.

The truth is that the economic power of the United States is waning. Americans are consequently seeking to consolidate their control and monopoly over Africa’s raw materials to safeguard their first position in the world at all levels and at all costs (even a third world war), including stoking wars by proxy in Libya, DRC, and so on. As Onunaiju once more put it, maybe the alarm bell that the new development bank established by the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – at their last crucial summit in Brazil portends to the end or at least cause a considerable weakening of the monopoly of global financial governance of the Breton Woods institutions could have jolted Washington into a direct economic involvement in Africa, whose rising profile would impact on any new emerging global financial and economic architecture.

External factors to Africa’s instability play a heavier role than internal factors and oil and raw materials always constitute the stakes in every African war. And so, the militarization of America’s Africa policy is a reality and aims to counter Chinese influence in Africa. Or, China’s contribution in Africa is developmental. Just look. As Ebola epidemic hits West Africa (Professor Jason Kissner asked himself whether the Ebola outbreak is U.S. sponsored bio-terror in the past and now to divert attention from Israel’s genocide in Palestine, as he wrote in the Global Research on 16 August 2014), unlike other countries, China has already dispatched medical personnel assistance teams to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia as part of public health emergency relief, even risking their own lives. ‘We are friends, comrades and brothers,’ said Chinese President Xi Jinping in Cuba; and ‘a friend in need is a friend indeed!’ as Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf put it in her message of gratitude to the people of China. And because the DRC was the first country to be the victim of Ebola (the name of a river in the region where it was first diagnosed), Kinshasa followed the example of China and sent its epidemologists to West Africa to share their experience with other African brothers.

China has also already shared its technologies with Africa, including an irrigation system which does not waste water, shared with Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, where agricultural outputs have quadrupled as a result. We Africans welcome China’s developmental approach because what Africa needs most is development, a share of new technologies so that Africa can transform its resources on the spot and create jobs and markets, not military bases (Cold War mentality) which America is now building throughout Africa, targeting countries rich in natural and mineral resources; or pitting some African countries against others under the cover of military support programs.

As a reminder, under the pretext of security assistance, the United States armed Rwanda and Uganda to invade Congo. They benefited from American training programs such as International Military Training (IMET), Africa Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI) and Rwanda Interagency Assessment Team (RIAT). Rwanda and Uganda invaded the DRC under the orders of the United States. According to the testimony of American investigative journalist Wayne Madsen titled ‘Genocide and covert operations in Africa 1993-199’, on 17 May 2001, before the Subcommittee on International Operation and Human Rights of the Committee on International Relations House of Representatives, the Pentagon was forced to admit on 6 August 1998 that it deployed twenty men of the American army operating in the context of Rwanda Interagency Assessment Team (RIAT).

According to the BBC, during the US-Africa summit, the White House announced new aid to support African peacekeeping forces and new security co-operation under Africa Military Command (AFRICOM):

– Help countries build ‘rapid response forces’ to intervene in conflicts
– Spend $110m (£65m) a year over next three to five years on the project. Six countries identified: Senegal, Ghana, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia
– Spend a further $65m (£38m) on helping countries build their security sectors. Six countries identified: Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Tunisia

It is therefore illogical to talk about America-China cooperation in Africa because the two approaches will never be the same, let alone for the Third Phase of the Great Inga Dam Project over the Congo River, the biggest in the world which can provide power to many other African countries. In fact, Obama recently accused China of being a ‘free rider’ (in Iraq and elsewhere). Which is not true! That is why we believe the so-called ‘Trilateral Cooperation’ in Africa will not work because China has never and will never ride on the back of America in Africa or in Latin America.

Obama’s comment raises many questions: after US intervention in Iraq, the US set up an interim government led by an American and made sure all the contracts ‘for reconstruction’ after bombing Iraq to stone age, went to American companies. Is this what ‘investments’ or ‘globalisation’ are all about? After US intervention in Iraq and Afghnaistan, did these countries cease to be sovereign and free to sign contracts with whomsoever they want to apart from the USA? Otherwise this is occupation and neo-colonialism. Take the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the last 16 years, Congo’s natural and mineral resources have been systematically looted by the same powers which used Rwanda and Uganda to kill 8 million people in Congo and use rape as a weapon of war. However, the same powers are coming back to Congo as investors. What does the term ‘investor’ mean in this case? You loot the wealth of Africa and you come back to Africa with Africa’s money as an investor!

As Xu Qinduo, a current affairs commentator with China Radio International, wrote in Shenzhen Daily on 18 August 2014, if China can be defined as a free rider, then there are many of them, countries such as India and Malaysia, companies such as BP and ExxonMobil and others who have invested in Iraq. In recent decades, the US launched or participated in many wars or military conflicts. Look what happened: Afghanistan sees no peace after 13 years, Iraq was drawn back into war, Syria sinks into endless crisis, Libya is in a free fall, Ukraine lost Crimea…. What kind of free ride is it? Besides, in Africa, no foreign investor can avoid driving on the China-built road, including US businessmen.

Can we say the US is a free rider on the huge investment and efforts by China to help build the infrastructure in Africa?

Charles Onunaiju gives another reason why the so-called America-China cooperation in Africa will never work: the Western finger-pointing at China’s resource extraction in Africa. Or, the latter’s resources have never been lying idly beneath the ground before the Chinese came. The resources have actually been viciously exploited and extracted by the West, the only problem being that Africa never really got the market value for it and neither gleaming stadia nor even presidential palaces as vain as they were, was built even as the resources made the West’s industrial age more glorious and her citizens more affluent. If ever the West, America inclusive, contemplates a balanced and even a fairly equal partnership with Africa, it will be mainly thanks to Sino-Africa co-operation and the deepening engagement of others like India, Turkey, and Brazil that currently challenges the formerly unequal engagement of the West with Africa.

Onunaiju further argues that even the Western standard narrative that resource hunger drove China to Africa is as historically deficient as it is politically motivated. Long before China became a key factor in Africa’s economic stage, she had actively been in solidarity to Africa’s historic aspiration to end colonial rule and achieve freedom. In the stormy years of Africa’s anti-colonial struggle, China was a reliable friend and partner.

Looking at the US-Africa summit from a Congolese perspective, we saw that the DRC was the most targeted by America’s ‘soft power’ during the summit and Congolese succumbed by biting the bait. Jill Biden, wife of American vice-president Joe Biden, honoured Congolese women by putting on a wax print dress ‘made in Kinshasa’ during the White House dinner with all heads of state. Although this was a welcoming sign, we think that the best way for America to honour Congolese women is to support the creation of a special international criminal tribunal for Congo so that the Rwandan, Ugandan and Congolese rebels they created and who are responsible for crimes against humanity in Congo, especially the use of rape as a weapon of war, are tried and punished. Why is this not happening? Because America is behind the war of aggression in Congo during which 8 million Congolese have lost their lives, rape used as a weapon of war, raw materials systematically looted and land occupied by Rwandans and Ugandans. In fact, after the summit, a ‘sex slave’ monument was unveiled in the USA to honour Chinese and South-Korean women who were used as sex slaves by Japanese during the Japanese invasion of China and Korea.

At the same time, members of African civil societies, including members of the Congolese civil society, pleaded for transparency in the extractive industry. Poor African civil societies in search of benefactors! There will never be transparency in the extractive industry because without the exploitation of Africa’s natural resources, there is no future for the Western economy. Transparency, like liberty, are not given. The only solution for African people is to own their own technologies, extract their own natural resources, transform them on the spot and create jobs and markets.

As far as the DRC is concerned, two most important things should have been put at the table: (1) No Americans and Israeli advisors within African governments (although Museveni has already hired a US firm for PR according to the Ugandan daily The Observer on 13 August 2014) and (2) the establishment of a special criminal tribunal for the DRC!

–  Antoine Roger Lokongo is a Congolese journalist and PhD student at the University of Beijing.