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USA: Bush and Africa, the Coming Apathy
USA: Bush and Africa, the Coming Apathy
Date distributed (ymd): 001213
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+
+US policy focus+
This posting contains a commentary on the prospects for Africa
policy under a Bush administration, by Salih Booker, director of
the The Africa Fund/American Committee on Africa in New York and
the Africa Policy Information Center in Washington. The commentary
is also being published by Foreign Policy in Focus
Another posting today contains a background analysis from
Colorlines magazine (http://www.colorlines.com), entitled 'The
Structure of White Power and the Color of Election 2000,' and a
statement from former civil rights workers on The prospects for
U.S. Africa policy are fundamentally related to the structural
racism embedded in the 'democracy deficit' of the U.S. political
system, as laid out in this related posting.
These two postings are the last for the year 2000 for the Africa
Policy Electronic Distribution List. Readers will also receive
later this week a letter from Salih Booker on perspectives for the
year to come for The Africa Fund / ACOA and the Africa Policy
Information Center. Our best wishes to all for the holiday season
and for strength, determination and hope for the next year.
The Coming Apathy: Africa Policy Under a Bush Administration
By Salih Booker
Salih Booker is the director of both The Africa Fund in New
York and the Africa Policy Information Center in Washington.
"There's got to be priorities," George W. Bush responded
when asked about Africa in the second presidential campaign
debate. Africa did not make his short list: the Middle East,
Europe, the Far East, and the Americas. A Bush presidency
portends a return to the blatantly anti-African policies of
the Reagan-Bush years, characterized by a general disregard
for black people and a perception of Africa as a social
welfare case. Vice President Dick Cheney is widely expected
to steer the younger Bush on most policy matters especially
foreign affairs. Cheney's perspective on Africa in the 1980s
was epitomized by his 1986 vote in favor of keeping Nelson
Mandela in prison and his consistent opposition to sanctions
against apartheid South Africa.
In Africa, a Bush White House will likely concentrate on
helping its oil industry friends reap maximum profits with
minimum constraints, and it will have absolutely no sense of
responsibility for past American misadventures, or for
global problems like AIDS or refugees. But events and
activism in Africa plus grassroots pressure in the U.S. and
internationally could change all of that, as it did during
the White House tenure of the last Republican Africaphobe.
Ironically, those chosen to set international priorities for
Bush will likely include two loyal African-Americans, Colin
Powell and Condoleezza Rice, who will probably not deviate
from the Bush-Cheney exclusion of Africa from the U.S.
global agenda. Neither Powell nor Rice has shown any
particular interest in or special knowledge of African
issues. Both have repeatedly pledged their allegiance to a
strong unilateralist view of the use of U.S. power, based on
the traditional geopolitical concepts of the national
interest held by the white American elite. Africans are
invisible on their policy radar screens though all too
visible on CNN for the Texas governor's taste.
"No one liked to see it on our TV screens," said Bush, when
asked about genocide in Rwanda in 1994, but Clinton "did the
right thing," he argued, in deciding not to act to stop the
slaughter. Bush ignored the fact that the U.S. also failed
to support and indeed blocked multilateral action by the
United Nations. This false dichotomy between bilateral
intervention and noninvolvement is common among U.S.
policymakers. But the concessions of Bush's team to
multilateral options are likely to be particularly scant.
The need for multilateral support for peace and security
rather than continued expansion of unaccountable bilateral
military ties is one of the highest priority issues
affecting Africa. But hard-line U.S. unilateralism will
likely make a bad situation worse. When not ignoring African
security crises, the new administration will likely attempt
to "delegate" African peacekeeping, using this as a
rationale for expanding relationships with privileged
partners, such as Nigeria, while denying resources for
strengthening multilateral involvement. In fact, we may well
see a repeat of this year's abortive effort by congressional
Republicans to cut funds for UN peacekeeping in Africa to
On two other African priority issues, however - debt
cancellation and the HIV/AIDS pandemic - public pressure has a
chance to cross traditional political barriers and make
unexpected breakthroughs, as did the struggle for sanctions
against apartheid in the Reagan era. Action on both issues
currently receives at least nominal support across party
lines, as evidenced in Bush's unexpected though
qualified rhetorical endorsement of debt relief in the
debates. Any significant action will require spending money
and opposing vested economic interests, and therefore
movement on these issues will initially become even more
difficult than it has been to date. But there are openings.
Republican skepticism of multilateral institutions has even
found some common ground with critics on the political left,
as in the Meltzer Commission's criticism of international
financial institutions and the recent congressional
resolution mandating U.S. opposition to user fees for
primary health and education in poor countries. More
narrowly, many favor debt cancellation for practical
business reasons (those with unpayable debts are unlikely to
be good customers). If debt cancellation makes it high
enough on the next administration's agenda, there will be
room for debate on policy.
Complacency, however, is more likely. "We already did debt
relief last year," policymakers may disingenuously conclude,
"and now poor countries should take care of their own
problems." The fact that the majority of countries affected
are African will make it easy for a Bush administration to
give debt relief lower priority. In the context of a Bush
presidency and a divided Congress, breaking through the
systemic American disdain for Africa will not happen unless there are real
shifts in public perceptions, comparable to those that
happened in the 1980s regarding apartheid in South Africa.
By any measure of catastrophic events in human history, the
HIV/AIDS pandemic should serve as such a wake-up call.
At the end of the year 2000, there are more than 25 million
Africans living with HIV/AIDS more than 70% of the adults
and more than 80% of the children who are infected
worldwide. Almost four million Africans were newly infected
during the year 2000. Yet almost no one in Africa is
receiving the expensive treatments now available to people
living with HIV/AIDS in rich countries. Pharmaceutical
companies, under pressure, are offering discounts on drugs.
But they are also continuing their campaign against the
production and import of generic alternatives. Congress
approved the administration request for a little more than
$300 million in new funds for HIV/AIDS worldwide in fiscal
year 2001. Yet the scale of the catastrophe has still not
struck home. Nor has the awareness that AIDS' unequal impact
both results from and reinforces economic inequalities,
amounting to a global apartheid.
If we regard HIV/AIDS as just another disease, and those
affected as excluded from our common humanity, then the odds
of making Africa a priority in the years ahead are low
indeed. If its horrors can serve to remind enough of us of
our common humanity, then even those with the most
exclusionary agendas will be forced to respond. For the Bush
administration, it will be a clear choice between black gold
and black people.
This material is produced and distributed by the
Africa Policy Information Center (APIC).APIC provides
accessible information and analysis in order to promote U.S.
and international policies toward Africa that advance
economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum
of human rights.