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Obama then Hillary: U.S. scrambles for Africa

By Brian E. Muhammad | Last updated: Aug 21, 2009 - 1:28:31 PM

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( - Following up on President Barack Obama's Africa trip in July, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton returned for a seven-nation tour. The trip was touted as the solidification of Mr. Obama's “Partner not Patron” message to Africa. But some observers are skeptical about U.S. motives, saying the trip was basically an economic-motivated move to strengthen America's position in the modern day scramble for African resources against China, France, India and the European Union.

Starting Aug. 4 in Kenya—the home of President Obama's father—Mrs. Clinton held bilateral talks with members of Kenya's government and addressed the opening session of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) forum, an initiative from President Bill Clinton's administration that allows tariff free and lenient trade policies for select African exports to the United States.

Sec. Clinton reiterated some of President Obama's themes from Ghana, such as “good governance attracts aid,” “responsibility” and “forgetting the past to move forward.”

“We believe in Africa's promise,” said the top U.S. diplomat. “We are committed to Africa's future and we will be partners with Africa's people.”

While in Kenya, Mrs. Clinton chided common stereotypes of Africa, such as “poverty, disease, and conflict” as “stale, outdated and wrong,” while highlighting the continent's potential.

“Africa is capable, and is making economic progress. In fact, one doesn't have to look far to see that Africa is ripe with opportunities,” said Mrs. Clinton. The secretary of state also announced U.S. plans to double foreign assistance to Africa by 2014.

However, while Mrs. Clinton applauded Africa in one hand, she backhanded the small country of Eritrea for its involvement in opposition politics in Somalia and promised more financial and military backing of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG), led by President Sheik Sharif Ahmed.

Experts maintain U.S. military posturing in the “Horn of Africa” is wrongheaded and fears the Obama administration will increase weaponry in the region through the conflict.

“U.S. support for the TFG is nothing short of disastrous, so we've just doubled disaster,” Peter Pham, an Africa specialist told Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper.

According to the Daily Nation, Mr. Pham said that some American weapons intended for the TFG ended up on Mogadishu's black markets—and ultimately in the hands of al-Shabaab, an opposition militia.

The secretary of state continued on to South Africa to refresh relations with the post apartheid regime and its newly-elected President Jacob Zuma.

According to Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary,Bureau of African Affairs, the stop was to “encourage” South Africa to play a leadership role in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to help resolve major political issues confronting the region such as Zimbabwe and Madagascar.

“South Africa has three million refugees from Zimbabwe and every one of those refugees represents a failure of the Zimbabwean government to care for its own people and a burden that South Africa has to bear,” Sec. Clinton said.

But some say Mrs. Clinton is espousing the same U.S. policy of “regime change” in Zimbabwe that has existed since President Robert Mugabe took control of White-owned land for redistribution back to Black Zimbabweans, a position the former liberation fighter undertook after England and the U.S. reneged on the post independence “Lancaster agreements” where the two Western powers were to finance the transition of land from White ownership back to Black ownership.

Refuting the skeptics, a State Dept. press statement said the Clinton visit was only to underline “America's commitment to collaborate with governments” and other sectors to “build Africa's capacity.”

Observers further noted that all seven countries are either oil producers or strong magnets for multi-national corporate greed for natural resources, specifically naming Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Liberia.

In Nigeria's Delta region, tremendous oil wealth never reached the exploited masses whose environment was polluted by multi-national conglomerates like Shell Oil. It is estimated that Nigeria has reaped an estimated $280 billion from oil in the past 30 years; the Delta communities have seen almost nil of the revenue, resulting in violent resistance against the multi-nationals and the Nigerian government.

According to reports, Clinton warned Nigeria about corruption and electoral fraud—comparing it to the fraudulent U.S. election that brought George Bush to power in 2000—albeit little pressure was placed on President Umaru Yar'Adua, whose administration has been accused of widespread corruption and extra-judicial killings, as in Nigeria's Borno State recently.

In Angola, which is on line to be Africa's number one oil producer, the secretary of state witnessed the U.S. Agency for International Development sign a memorandum of understanding with the Chevron Corporation and the Cooperative League of the United States of America. Mrs. Clinton said, “We are making a down payment on the future” of Angola, which is struggling to establish itself after years of an independence war and a civil war.

America has a history with the former Portuguese colony going back to the 1960s when the U.S. was the benefactor of Jonas Savimbi and his brutal National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), who fought against the anti-colonial struggles for the liberation of Angola. Mr. Savimbi was America's tool to disrupt the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in the wars for independence (1961–1975) and then in a vicious civil war from 1975–2002. UNITA was America's “cold war” proxy against the MPLA who were backed and financed by the then Soviet Union.

Angola's increased oil and diamond production and intensive infrastructure rebuilding following the end of the civil war offers huge business opportunities. Economists expect Angola will reach double-digit growth over the next five years. The U.S., however, has fallen behind the Chinese since the end of Angola's civil war. China is Angola's number one trading partner for oil, according to a UK Chatham House report.

The U.S. struggle to compete with China on Africa trade appears to be the real motivation for Mrs. Clinton coming so soon after President Obama, said Bahati Jacques, an analyst with the African Faith and Justice Network.

“China has made a lot of contracts with the DRC and that makes the U.S. unhappy because they want to get those contracts or be part of what's going on,” said Mr. Jacques to The Final Call.

The French are involved in DRC and there is a clear scramble to get into the Congo before everything is taken. War zone resources like coltan—used in cell phones and computers—are going not only into the U.S. but into Europe and Asia, said Mr. Jacques.

The African Faith and Justice Network has called on Mrs. Clinton to retract the U.S. call for Africans to forget the past and move on in light of America's historical meddling in Congolese affairs.

“No we can't forget the past. How can we forget that six million people have died, how can we forget that (first Congo Prime Minister Patrice) Lumumba was killed under a CIA conspiracy, how can we forget that (Laurent) Kabila came to power by force sponsored by Rwanda, Uganda and the U.S.?” asked Mr. Jacques.

“We are calling Clinton to apologize” for that position, he added.

The trip took Mrs. Clinton to Kenya, South Africa, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Nigeria, Liberia, and ended in Cape Verde.

Related links:

The second scramble for Africa starts (FCN, 05-05-2009)

Is Africom a U.S. military maneuver or real help? (FCN, 02-05-2009)

The global exploitation of Africa’s land and people (FCN, 08-21-2008)