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WikiLeaks and Africa

U.S. frustrated with allies & adversaries

Published Dec 8, 2010 9:57 PM

Documents released by the WikiLeaks website under the direction of Australian national Julian Assange provide insight into U.S. political maneuvers on the African continent. Although more attention was paid to diplomatic cables on events in Saudi Arabia, Britain, Iran, etc., there are significant leaks related to the frustrations of the U.S. State Department in influencing developments in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Morocco and Algeria.

Going back 20 years, the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria, under the former racist minority apartheid regime, sought to make direct contact with African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela upon his release from prison in 1990. Mandela was let out of prison after 27 years in response to a worldwide movement in support of the South African masses’ struggle for national liberation.

According to leaked cables published in the South African Mail & Guardian on Nov. 29, “It took seven weeks of steady hounding to obtain an appointment for [U.S.] ambassador [William Lacy] Swing with Mandela.” In addition to the slow pace of scheduling a U.S. meeting with the world-renowned South African former political prisoner, there were also leading elements in the African National Congress at the time who believed “Mandela should refrain from meeting UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.”

The U.S. had been instrumental in the capture and imprisonment of Nelson Mandela in 1962, when he sought to organize both mass and armed struggles aimed at toppling the racist political system in South Africa. Only after millions within South Africa and around the world rallied to the ANC banner was the U.S. forced to recognize this leading national liberation movement.

After visiting neighboring African states and other fraternal countries in the immediate aftermath of his release, Mandela toured the U.S. in June 1990. During the visit he repeatedly refused to renounce the ANC’s longtime friendship with allies in the Palestine Liberation Organization, Libya, Cuba and other revolutionary states and liberation movements.

U.S. frustrated in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, which gained independence from Britain in 1980, the ruling ZANU-PF party embarked upon a radical land redistribution program in 2000. The program prompted the U.S., Britain, the European Union and its allies to impose still-existing sanctions against the government of President Robert Mugabe.

The U.S. and its allies provided political and economic support to the Western-oriented Movement for Democratic Change, trying to topple the ZANU-PF government. However, former U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell expressed frustration at the incapacity of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai to carry out the imperialist agenda inside this southern African state.

Within documents related to the MDC, Dell claimed there was no competent opposition to the Mugabe government. In a cable entitled “The End is Nigh,” written July 13, 2007, Dell stated that “Zimbabwe’s opposition is far from ideal and I leave convinced that had we had different partners, we could have achieved more already.” (Zimbabwe Herald, Nov. 30)

Dell stated regime change would have been possible with more “talent” among the opposition forces. He claimed, “You have to play the hand you’re dealt.”

The U.S. ambassador, extremely unpopular in Zimbabwe during his tenure, which ended in 2007, also noted Tsvangirai was a “flawed figure and not readily open to advice, indecisive and with questionable judgment in selecting those around him.

“He is the indispensable element for opposition success, but possibly an albatross around their necks once in power. In short, he is a kind of Lech Walesa character: Zimbabwe needs him, but should not rely on his executive abilities to lead the country’s recovery.”

U.S. attitude toward ‘friendly states’

The U.S., while attempting to influence and redirect developments in states like Zimbabwe and within the African National Congress, which it viewed as communist-influenced national liberation movements and governments, also disparaged long-time allies. Thus, the regimes in Kenya did not escape scathing attacks by the world’s leading imperialist country. WikiLeaks released 1,821 diplomatic cables on Kenyan relations between 1996 and 2010, indicating clearly that the U.S. did not have high opinions of one of its closest collaborators in East Africa.

After the eruption of intraparty violence in Kenya in late 2007 and early 2008, stemming from a disputed election, several leading states and political leaders on behalf of the African Union worked for months to end the violence and establish a unity government. Nonetheless, according to the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, “almost every single sentence from the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi speaks with disdain of the coalition government.” (Dec. 1)

In the North African kingdom of Morocco, another close U.S. ally in the so-called “war on terrorism,” leaked diplomatic cables show little trust in the armed forces of this country. The U.S. assessment was that the Moroccan military was plagued by corruption “at the highest levels.” (Afrol News, Dec. 3)

One cable told Washington that Gen. Abdelaziz Bennani, commander of the Moroccan armed forces, used his position “to skim money from military contracts and influence business decisions.” U.S. Ambassador Thomas Riley also claimed that he discovered credible rumors that Bennani “owns large parts of the fisheries in Western Sahara.”

The Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony controlled by Morocco since 1976, has waged a national independence struggle since the early 1970s. Riley noted that to win countries over to opposing the independence of the Western Sahara, whose liberation movement, the Polisario Front, had won the right to hold a yet-to-be-realized national referendum on independence, Morocco willingly participated in so-called peacekeeping operations in Senegal and Niger.

These leaked cables substantiate long-held beliefs that Morocco, a former French protectorate, has moved closer to the U.S. Afrol News notes, “Ties with the U.S. have continued to deepen, although Washington is also improving its relations with Morocco’s arch-rival Algeria.” (Dec. 1)

Regarding U.S. relations with Algeria, another former French colony that won its independence through a protracted armed struggle from 1954 to 1961, Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci objected strongly to placing its nationals on a list of those requiring special screening to enter the U.S. Afrol News reported that according to leaked documents, “The Foreign Minister said that Algeria is a leader in the fight against terrorism and the measures taken by the United States are arbitrary and enshrine the principle of discrimination.” (Dec. 1)

Medelci added, “These measures are contrary to Obama’s speech in Cairo, and the desire of his administration to work with Muslims.” Yet 14 Muslim countries were placed on a watch list after a purported plot to blow up a plane bound for Detroit from Amsterdam on Dec. 25, 2009.

State Department engages in damage control

Since the release of the embassy cables by WikiLeaks in November, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other diplomats have apologized to U.S. allies around the world, including those on the African continent. Yet what these documents reveal is that it is just as dangerous, if not more so, for African states to be friendly to the U.S. as it is to be considered independent of Washington’s foreign policy aims in the region.

Overall U.S. foreign policy toward Africa is designed to maintain and enhance imperialist control over resources integral to the profit-making capacity of transnational corporations. African leaders will undoubtedly take these revelations seriously in their future plans aimed at securing independence and sovereignty of their land, resources and waterways.