Friday, October 16, 2009

Unless there is a fundamental change in America's policies towards Africa

Unless there is a fundamental change in America's policies towards Africa, the continent will not gain much from the in-coming US government.

Many people of African descent are anticipating that when Barack Obama becomes the 44th President of the United States of America, the fortunes of Africa will change. However, nothing will change unless US foreign policy towards Africa changes drastically.

The G8 Summit held in June, pledged $6 billion dollars a year in so-called aid to Africa. The low figure caused an official of Oxfam to say "We're extremely disappointed by this wasted opportunity. They're offering peanuts to Africa and recycled peanuts at that."

In 1999, debt service payments from Africa, the poorest region in the world, to rich Western countries totaled $35.7 billion. African debt stands at a crippling $300 billion.

According to The Guardian (U.K.) "African leaders invited to the G8 gathering expressed deep disappointment that the plan did nothing to open western markets, cancel debts of the poorest countries or provide the financial aid needed to meet the U.N.'s targets for tackling global poverty by 2015."

Behind the shameful peanut throwing lurks a deadly western policy towards Africa. The U.S. government which dominates the G8 has through the Pentagon, the CIA, the World Bank and the IMF, systematically demolished African economies, health and education sectors, and fueled eleven wars on the continent with arms transfers and military training. This genocidal imperial strategy has killed more than ten million Africans and has allowed the U.S. and the West to obtain Africa's abundant natural riches very cheaply.

President Kabila of DR CongoAt the same time that it laid waste to Angola, the U.S. ensured a similar fate for adjoining Mozambique, which also emerged from Portuguese colonialism in 1975. Here, the U.S., again through South Africa, backed the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) "an artificial armed engine of destruction," created by the intelligence service of the racist Ian Smith regime of Rhodesia (now independent Zimbabwe).

Even more vicious than UNITA, RENAMO committed massive atrocities against civilians and destroyed much of Mozambique's infrastructure in a 16-year long civil war with the left-wing government of the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO). One million people were killed and five million displaced by the time the war ended in 1992. In 1988, Roy Stacey, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, who was part of a group trying to end Washington's backing for RENAMO, stated that the insurgents were carrying out "one of the most brutal holocausts against ordinary human beings since World War II."

Somalia which today is wracked by civil war and has no central government was the top recipient (per capita) of U.S. military and economic aid in Africa during the 1980s. Siad Barre, the country's dictator at the time, was a key strategic ally of Washington in the Cold War and got $600 million in U.S. aid.

Following Barre's rampage of killing and plunder, Somalia literally fell apart. Barre's forces murdered 5,000 unarmed civilians from 1988-89 and in 1990 he was overthrown.

Similarly, Sudan today is embroiled in a 25-year old civil war that has killed four million people. The U.S. is actively supporting the rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) against the government. However, it has long been clear that Washington wants to keep the rebels strong enough to prevent defeat but does not want them to become capable of toppling the government. "Peace" a U.S. official explained, "does not necessarily suit American interests. An unstable Sudan amounts to a stable Egypt."

Washington has fomented not only military conflict and genocide in Africa, but also an economic holocaust through its agents the World Bank and the IMF. The Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) imposed by these institutions on 36 African countries since 1980 have devastated the continent, decimating national economies and health and education systems.

SAPs offer loans on condition that governments drastically reduce public spending (especially on health, education and food subsidies) in favour of repayment of debt owed to western banks, increase exports of raw materials to the West, encourage foreign investment and privatise state enterprises; the last two steps mean selling whatever national assets a poor country may have to western multinational corporations.

Under SAP, sub-Saharan Africa's external debt has actually increased by more than 500 percent since 1980, to $300 billion today. In 1997, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) stated that in the absence of debt payments, severely indebted African countries could have saved the lives of 21 million people and given 90 million girls and women access to basic education by the year 2000. The All-African Conference of Churches has called the debt "a new form of slavery, as vicious as the slave trade."

After twenty years of SAP, 313 million Africans lived in absolute poverty in 2001 (out of a total population of 682 million), a 63 percent increase over the 200 million figure for 1994. Life expectancy has dropped by 15 percent since 1980 and today is 47 years, the lowest in the world.

Forty percent of Africans suffer from malnutrition and more than half are without safe drinking water. Health care spending in the 42 poorest African countries fell by 50 percent during the 1980s. As a result, health care systems have collapsed across the continent creating near catastrophic conditions.

More than 200 million Africans have no access to health services as hundreds of clinics, hospitals and medical facilities have been closed. This has left diseases to rage unchecked, leading most alarmingly to an AIDS pandemic. More than 17 million Africans have died of HIV/AIDS which has created 12 million orphans.

Between 1986 and 1996, per capita education spending in Africa fell by 0.7 percent a year on average. Forty per cent of African children are out of school and the adult literacy rate in sub- Saharan Africa is 60 percent, well below the developing country average of 73 percent.

President Museveni of UgandaMore than 140 million young Africans are illiterate. Given the annihilating social impact of SAP all over Africa, it is not surprising that Emily Sikazwe, director of the Zambian anti-poverty group "Women for Change," asked: "What would they the World Bank and the IMF say if we took them to the World Court in The Hague and accused them of genocide?"

In 1966, a CIA-backed military coup overthrew Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's president. Hailed as "Africa's brightest star," Nkrumah called for an anti-imperialist, pan-African organization and non-alignment in the Cold War. In October 1965, Nkrumah published his famous work, "Neo-Colonialism-The Last Stage of Imperialism" in which he accused the CIA of being behind many of the crises in the Third World. The U.S. government reacted by sending Nkrumah a note of protest and cancelling $35 million in aid to Ghana. Four months later, Nkrumah was overthrown in the CIA-engineered coup.

IMF involvement in Ghana followed the coup and SAP was activated in 1983. Seen as a "star pupil" by the World Bank and the IMF, Ghana privatized more than 130 state enterprises including the mining sector (its main source of revenue), removed tariff barriers and exchange regulations and ended subsidies for health and education. As a result 20 percent of Ghanaians are unemployed and the cost of food and services has gone beyond the reach of the poor. GDP per capita was lower in 1998 ($390) than it was in 1975 ($411); 78.4 percent of Ghanaians live on $1 a day and 40 percent live below the poverty line; 75 percent have no access to health services and 68 percent none to sanitation.

The introduction of user fees for health care in 1985 combined with falling wages and increasing poverty has reduced outpatient attendance at hospitals by a third. As one observer put it, "Patients pay for everything; for surgery, drugs, blood, scalpel, even the cotton wool." User fees in education have raised the primary school dropout rate to 40 percent.

Ghana is the second largest gold producer in Africa (after South Africa) and gold mining is the country's main source of income. SAP has compelled Ghana to sell its gold mining sector to western multinational corporations which now own up to 85 percent of the large-scale mining industry. More than half of the 200 active gold concessions belong at least in part to Canadian companies.

The corporations can repatriate up to 95 percent of their profits into foreign accounts and pay no income tax or duties. This means that western companies virtually monopolise Ghana's gold which contributes little to its economy.

Just as "an unstable Sudan amounts to a stable Egypt" so an unstable, war-wracked and poverty-stricken Africa amounts to a stable and prosperous West. This is U.S. imperial strategy towards Africa and it has destroyed the continent. The strategy aims at extracting the maximum amount of wealth from Africa for the West at the lowest cost through the perpetration of a holocaust created by eleven wars and structural adjustment programmes imposed on 36 countries.

The wars have killed more than four million Africans and SAPs have led to an estimated 21 million deaths; both have resulted in the transfer of hundreds of billions of dollars to the West.

Most African exports to the West are raw materials and the wars have helped keep their price low since the armies need to sell these for whatever money they can get in order to buy weapons; a considerable portion of the weapons are also bought from the West.

SAPs have transferred $229 billion in debt payments from sub-Saharan Africa to the West since 1980. This is four times the region's 1980 debt. Like the wars, SAPs also help keep raw material prices low by enforcing the expansion of such exports to the West. The value of primary African exports has dropped by about half since 1980.

Four hundred and fifty years of the slave trade and 150 years of western colonialism in Africa helped build the U.S. and European economies; Washington's ravaging of Africa continues this horrifying legacy and starkly reveals the grotesqueness of the West.

*This article, reproduced and re-edited with permission, was first published in the September 29 and October 3, 2008 editions of the Ghanaian website, Public Agenda - www.ghanaweb.com.

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