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Behind the Clinton tour

Secretary of State reveals U.S. imperialist policy toward Africa

Published Aug 20, 2009 8:31 PM

There was much anticipation on the African continent about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 11-day recent visit to seven countries. However, the tour’s outcome largely reaffirmed the continuance of past U.S. policy toward Africa.

President Barack Obama has a direct connection to the East African nation of Kenya. African heads of state hope that this historic link will inspire the administration to look more seriously at U.S. foreign policy towards Africa.

However, the same economic and political interests that have driven U.S. policy still prevail. U.S. imperialism’s strategy has been one of domination through mineral extraction, trade, political engagement and military involvement.

Starting with Sudan in 1956 and Ghana in 1957, former British colonies, and with former French possession Guinea-Conakry in 1958, the national liberation movements in Africa gained tremendous momentum.

In 1960, 18 countries gained their independence from England, France and Belgium. Algeria won independence from France in 1962. By 1963 there were more than 30 independent states on the continent.

Nevertheless, the former European colonial powers and, increasingly, the U.S., still sought to dominate Africa’s politics and economies.

In 1965, Kwame Nkrumah, the former president of Ghana and a key leader of the post-World War II African liberation struggle, said that the U.S. had become the dominant imperialist power.

In his book, “Neocolonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism,” Nkrumah said: “Faced with the militant peoples of the ex-colonial territories ... imperialism simply switches tactics. Without a qualm, it dispenses with its flags, and even with certain of its more hated expatriate officials. This means, so it claims, that it is ‘giving’ independence to its former subjects, to be followed by ‘aid’ for their development.

“Under cover of such phrases, however, it devises innumerable ways to accomplish objectives formerly achieved by naked colonialism. It is this sum total of these modern attempts to perpetuate colonialism while at the same time talking about ‘freedom,’ which has come to be known as neocolonialism.”

Nkrumah stressed, “Foremost among the neocolonialists is the United States. ... With methodical thoroughness and touching attention to detail, the Pentagon set about consolidating its ascendancy, evidence of which can be seen all around the world.”

In the 1970s and 1980s, the U.S. supported the most reactionary policies towards Africa. Republican and Democratic administrations opposed and undermined national liberation movements and progressive states. The International Monetary Fund, World Bank, CIA and the Pentagon sabotaged economic development efforts.

After white minority rule was abolished on the subcontinent with the independence of Namibia and South Africa during the early 1990s, the U.S. militarily intervened in Somalia from 1991-93, escalated its military involvement with Mubarak’s government in Egypt and, in 1998, bombed Sudan.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the U.S. increased its intervention in Somalia and intensified efforts to overthrow the governments of Zimbabwe and Sudan.

U.S.-Africa policy under Obama

At a regional trade conference in Kenya, Clinton emphasized the administration’s intentions to increase trade between the U.S. and African countries in the region. She also met with the president of the U.S.-backed Transitional Federal Government in neighboring Somalia.

At a joint press conference in Nairobi Aug. 6, Clinton and Somali President Sheik Sharif Ahmed discussed how Washington can provide additional financial, political and military support to the fledging government that is largely propped-up by the African Union’s “peacekeeping forces” (AMISOM). Clinton is the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat to make direct contact with the Somali regime.

Somalia has been without an internationally recognized government since the U.S.-backed Siad Barre regime collapsed in 1991. Although Bush’s administration provided assistance for the AMISOM forces in Somalia, most of the aid was funneled through the United Nations and the A.U.

In its coverage of the meeting, the Los Angeles Times reported, “Somali officials said discussions centered on providing additional weapons, boosting humanitarian assistance and formalizing ties.” The U.S. government recently announced that it is sending 40 tons of weapons and munitions, in addition to training a reconfigured military force to protect the Ahmed government.

U.S. military involvement in Somalia escalated during Bush’s administration. In 2006, when the Islamic Courts Union took control of much of the country, the CIA was suspected of funding warlords inside Somalia who sought to promote U.S. aims there. In December 2006, the U.S.-backed government in Ethiopia militarily invaded Somalia on behalf of the Bush administration, supposedly to curb the rising tide of “Islamic extremism,” which was linked to Al-Qaeda.

During Ethiopia’s occupation, the U.S. Air Force carried out six aerial bombardments in Somalia, leading to the worst humanitarian crisis on the continent. However, the Somali people’s resistance forced the Ethiopian military to retreat in January of 2009.

Somali government officials see U.S. assistance as their only hope to counter the radical resistance movements of Al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam. However, Ahmed’s government has limited control there. Even Mogadishu, the capital, is largely under the influence of Al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam.

The Al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam organizations have appealed to the Somali people based on U.S. pledges of greater support to the transitional regime. Al-Shabab Commander Sheik Muse Hassan Ali stated, “There is no difference between Bush and Obama. Both are against Islam and are trying to eradicate Islamic governments.” (Los Angeles Times, Aug. 7)

Ali said he welcomed the shipment of military equipment to the transitional government because, “We are ready to confiscate all these weapons.”

In South Africa, Clinton attempted to persuade the newly elected African National Congress government of President Jacob Zuma to work with the U.S. to remove Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union, Patriotic Front party from the recently created inclusive government. South Africa has worked with the Zimbabwe government to form a coalition with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, and to get Western sanctions lifted. The U.S., Britain and the European Union imposed the sanctions in response to the country’s land redistribution program, which was enacted in 2000.

The ANC government resisted Bush administration pressure to cut off power supplies and implement an economic blockade against Zimbabwe. South Africa has extended credit to the Mugabe government to offset the impact of Western sanctions. Obama has continued sanctions against Zimbabwe despite the coalition government’s formation.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Clinton raised the impact of the ongoing civil war in the eastern region of the mineral-rich central African nation. The DRC has a long history of U.S. involvement. During the early days of independence in 1960-61, the CIA plotted the overthrow and murder of nationalist leader Patrice Lumumba, and later backed Colonel Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled for 37 years at imperialism’s behest.

After Mobutu was overthrown in 1997, the U.S. sought to continue its domination of the DRC by supporting the governments in neighboring Rwanda and Uganda. A regional war erupted in 1998, largely at the instigation of former President Bill Clinton’s administration. The U.S. encouraged and financed the Rwandan and Ugandan armies’ invasion of the DRC. A five-year war ensued that drew in Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia on the side of the Congolese government. Millions died in this war between 1998 and 2003.

U.S. mining firms are still extracting huge amounts of wealth from the eastern and southern regions of the country. The Obama administration has announced new initiatives to provide military training to the Congolese army. The U.S. also supplies material and financial assistance to the U.N. Mission to the Congo (MONUC) and its 17,000 peacekeepers, who are stationed in the country’s eastern region.

In Angola, Clinton lectured the government run by the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) about the need for transparency there. Angola is now the leading oil producer in Africa.

During the first years of Angola’s independence, from 1975 to 1989, the U.S. encouraged the efforts to undermine the former Portuguese colony by supporting the counterrevolutionary UNITA movement, which was working on behalf of the former apartheid regime in South Africa.

In Nigeria, Clinton criticized the government for corrupt practices and the lack of good governance. Yet no mention was made of the role of U.S. and European oil firms that dominate the economy and provide no benefit to the majority of Nigeria’s people. Recent unrest stems largely from its reliance on the same oil firms that make huge profits at the expense of workers and farmers.

Clinton raised the purported threat of “Islamic terrorism” during her Nigerian visit. “Al-Qaeda has a presence in Northern Africa,” she said.

Such statements by the U.S. secretary of state reflect recent U.S. military policy towards Africa. The 2008 establishment of the Africa Command (Africom) signaled U.S. willingness to intensify its interventions on the continent.

Presently the U.S. has a military base in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti. U.S. warships are patrolling the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean under the guise of fighting “piracy.” Other military operations are being conducted in the Gulf of Guinea off the West African coast—a major source of oil exports to the U.S.

Daniel Volman of the African Security Research Project in Washington, D.C., revealed: “In May 2008, the United States Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., hosted ‘Unified Quest 2008,’ the army’s annual war games to test the American military’s ability to deal with the kind of crises that it might face in the near future. [This] was especially noteworthy because it was the first time the war games included African scenarios as part of the Pentagon’s plan to create a new military command for the continent: the Africa Command or Africom.” (AllAfrica.com, August 14)

In an earlier article, Volman reviewed the military budget submitted to Congress by the Obama administration for 2010, which “proposes significant increases in U.S. security assistance programmes for African countries and for the operations of the new U.S. Africa Command (Africom). This shows that—at least initially—the administration is following the course laid down for Africom by the Bush administration.” (AllAfrica.com, June 11) Volman says this budget includes funding for military education and training programs in at least 17 African nations.

Administration policy continues imperialist aims

These developments indicate clearly that the interest in African affairs by the current U.S. administration means a continuation of promoting and advancing the economic and political priorities of the U.S. ruling class.

Gitau Warigi, a political analyst in Kenya, wrote in the Daily Nation that that there were “strategic interests involved” behind Clinton’s visit. This referred to U.S. attempts to regain ground lost during the Bush administration, and Clinton’s criticism of the growing role of the People’s Republic of China in Africa.

These attempts at increasing U.S. military involvement in Africa will not win the hearts and minds of the continent’s people. The majority have not significantly benefited from trade agreements and the presence of large-scale business ventures. U.S. imperialism’s military adventures are always designed to enforce existing relations of production and unequal terms of trade.

It is only when the majority of the people in Africa take control of the ownership and production of their economic resources that the potential will exist for genuine independence and national development.