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WASHINGTON CONCENSUS OR BEIJING CONSENSUS: CAN U.S. PRESIDENT OBAMA’S AFRICAN TOUR WIN OVER THE CONTINENT AGAINST RIVAL CHINA?

By AUTHOR: ISMAIL BANJA KANDEH.

News about U.S. President Obama’s recent second tour of Africa dominated headlines in the western media throughout end June and early July 2013. Precisely, President Obama conducted his trip to Africa – Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania – between Monday 1 and Tuesday 2, July 2013.

Apart from South Africa where some protesters opposed his visit, President Obama’s tour of Africa was greeted with much euphoria and excitement around the continent. Authorities of the host countries interpreted the visit as an approval of their democratic credentials by the world’s most powerful president.

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A political commentator in one of the local newspapers seemingly interpreted Sierra Leone’s exclusion from the tour list as a disapproval of the country’s police brutality and corruption record, and speculatively queried that it could also not be unconnected with the outcome of discussions between President Obama and President Ernest Bai Koroma during the latter’s recent visit to White House in the United States. Without disrespect for this opinion, I disagree a bit because I see President Obama’s exclusion of Sierra Leone from his tour list as a blessing in itself! If President Obama had visited Sierra Leone, some corrupt state politicians and officials would have made that a painful cost to the ordinary Sierra Leoneans, and translate into another supplementary budget for parliament’s approval with justification that the state welcome preparation expenses were unforeseen. Please, do not condemn me for being too negative because the present and recent past allegations lent support to this feeling. For instance, what allegedly happened to our 50th Independent Anniversary Fund or the present Solar Light Units supply to our district headquarter towns?  I am ashamed that news about the alleged solar light theft started with my home district, Koinadugu! The logic follows that, if some corrupt state politicians and officials were not ashamed of siphoning away into their personal accounts the 50th independent anniversary fund or stealing solar light unit meant for the poor masses as street light in the district headquarter towns, what would prevent them from squandering more funds in the guise of state welcome preparations for President Obama?

Anyway, coming back to the topic under discussion, I ask the question: Why was President Obama in Africa for the second time after his first brief stop-over in Ghana in 2009? Was President Obama in Africa because the United States loves the continent and particularly so because he has an African blood within his body?  In my view, the answer to this question about United States’ love for Africa is a big ‘NO’.

If we go by the popular news headlines touted in the western media about President Obama’s tour of Africa, then we have every reason to believe that he was in Africa to defend and promote the West’s, particularly America’s, strategic interests perceived as being threatened by China’s strong presence in the continent. Simply put, President Obama’s African tour was about countering China’s influence in Africa. He was in Africa to build strategic military and business ties with Africa in the face of China’s surge in the continent. In addition, President Obama’s African tour was an attempt to find a cure to the western economies’, more so the American economy’s, financial crisis caused by corruption of western financial system. It is becoming crystal clear that Africa is the continent of  future prosperity, and is fast becoming a ‘new frontier’ with abundant fertile land, minerals, energy and many others, suitable to make profits and to solve western economies’ problems. And China must not be seen to have the lion share of this economic fortune of Africa!

President Obama’s various speeches during the tour gave a vivid appraisal of the continent’s economic potentials as well as highlighted the purpose of his visit. He depict Africa as a ‘hopeful continent on the rise and with which America can partner and do business on an equal footing and win-win basis’. Further, he said: ‘Many of the fastest-growing economies in the world are here in Africa, where there is an historic shift taking place from poverty to a growing, nascent middle class. Fewer people are dying of preventable disease. More people have access to health care. More farmers are getting their products to markets at fair prices. From micro-finance projects in Kampala, to stock traders in Lagos, to cell phone entrepreneurs in Nairobi, there is an energy here that can’t be denied ……Africa is rising’. These statements smell a charming offensive to woo Africa on the side of the West, more so the United States, as against the most serious competitor in the continent, China.

But the tricky question remains: Given the bitter experience with the West over the past 500 years, can Africa be so easily wooed into the side of the West against China? Is the West, particularly America, genuinely ready to partner with Africa on an equal footing and on a win-win basis as promised by President Obama? Will superiority arrogance ever allow the West, particularly America, to treat Africa with mutual respect as equal partner? In my opinion, I will sum up the answer to all these questions as a big ‘NO’.

Africa is still licking its wound inflicted by the West that continues to remain supremely arrogant in its demeaning treatment of Africans, even in their own natural homeland, as an inferior sub-species of the human race. Given this situation, I am pessimistic that the West, as epitomized in President Obama’s recent African tour, will be able to so easily willingly woo (if not coerced) the continent against China for some of the reasons briefly stated below:

Africa’s experience with the West for the past 500 years or so is nothing to write home about. Africa’s experience with the West only meant slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism and all the unfair international mechanisms (World Bank, IMF, NGOs and so on) along with their double standard rhetoric (of democracy, good governance, human rights, liberal trade, free market and so on) put in place by the western powers in order to keep the continent always last in the development ladder.

The recent increasing militarization of the West’s, particularly America’s, African policy is undermining and threatening the peace, stability, unity, and development of the African continent. Instead of genuinely supporting the African Union’s peace and security efforts, the West covertly continues to undermine it by adopting a new strategy of ‘Western money and African boots’ indirectly under the guise of the UN and/or AU. Can’t you see it happening in Sudan, Somalia and Mali, right? We also see that when other parts of the world are getting rid of or calling for western military bases to be closed in their territories because of infringing on their sovereignty, the Europeans and Americans are directly either escalating military interventions or establishing military basis everywhere throughout Africa. For instance, using the UN’s ‘no fly zone’ over Libya as a cover-up in 2011, we saw NATO arrogantly invading that country and murdering its leader, Col. Muhammad Gaddaffi, in the mane of restoring democracy against the genuine advice and peace initiative of the African Union. The French invasion of Cote d’Ivoire in 2011 and that of Mali in 2012 in the name of restoring democracy and fighting terrorists all exemplified the new military aggression from the West. The United States under the Africa Command (AFRICOM) programme initiated by former President Bush Jr. has established military bases in Djibouti, Niger, Libya, and so on. While the Europeans and Americans are forcefully militarizing Africa, America’s closest ally in Asia, Japan, is urging the Americans to close their military base in Okinawa, while another ally, Kyrgyzstan, has ordered that American forces must abandon its airbase at the Manas International Airport by July 2014.

The West also seems to make Africa’s conflict resolution complex and cumbersome. America, in particular, often gives the impression of igniting the fire where its interests are at stake and then at the same time claiming to be extinguishing it where such interests are not at stake. For instance, Rwanda and Uganda are two strong allies of the United States in Africa that stand accused by a UN report of fuelling the civil war in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) through support to different rebel militia groups fighting the government forces, but President Obama failed to name and shame these two countries in his speech in Tanzania during his recent African tour. But instead, he named and shamed Zimbabwe that the West tagged its worst enemy in Africa when he talked about ‘the protester who is beaten in Harare’, a statement that has the potential to embolden both sides of the political divide in that country. In Senegal, President Obama urged the Senegalese Government to institute  court action against former Chadian President, Hussein Habre, which was obeyed out-rightly even though it carry with it the risk of making political reconciliation difficult in Chad. Presently, the West has taken a double standard stance by refusing to label the military’s overthrow of Dr. Mohammed Morsi’s Islamist Government in Egypt as a coup and has also refused to support the AU’s condemnation of the coup or even allowed its controlled UN to make official statement on the crisis. Moreover, why not any ICC indictment for the President Allasane Ouatara faction in Cote d’Ivoire but for former President Laurent Gbagbo faction or  none for Raila Odinga faction but for the former President Moi Kibaki faction in Kenya or none for South Sudan’s President Salva Kirr but for Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashirr, or none for the Rwandan and Ugandan authorities’ involvement in the DRC but one for poor former President Charles Taylor’s involvement with the RUF war in Sierra Leone, and so on, right?

The West has always demonstrated the principles of ‘permanent interest, no permanent friend’ so far Africa is concerned. In pursuit of these selfish principles, the West always stands up against those genuine visionary strong African leaders who support the ideologies and principles that lead to a better life of their peoples. It is not uncommon for the western powers to aid and abate African peoples to select or elect their leaders who will remain heaped with praises that they do not deserve so long they continue to blindly serve western interests but the soonest they catch the joke and refused to blindly serve western interests they will be disgracefully coerced out of power and/or even get assassinated by powerful western intelligence agencies and/or their extension military coupists and armed freedom fighters. The list of African leaders (living and dead) heaped with praises or coerced out of power and/or assassinated is very long. In Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah when out of the country on official duty was overthrown and banished in exiled  in Guinea-Conakry until  his death by a western engineered military coup that threw the country in to instability for over two decades. In DRC, Patrice Lumumba was assassinated and General Mobutu Sese Seko was hoisted to power and praised but himself fell out with his western godfathers and got overthrown by an armed freedom fighter, Laurent Kabila, who was in turn assassinated by allegedly a western paid up body guard only to be succeeded by his son the current President Major Joseph Kabila. In Burkina Faso, Capt. Thomas Sankara, one of the progressive populist leaders in Africa, was assassinated by his allegedly western paid up number two man and closest ally, President Campaore.In Libya, Col. Gaddaffi became the most successful leader in Africa with regard control over natural resources revenues as well as re-opening the eyes of other African countries to unity and economic freedom not in the interests of the west, and so under the guise of the UN backed ‘no fly zone’ was brutally murdered by NATO forces in 2011 in favour of some Islamist elements’ whose ascension to power has thrown the country, and almost the whole of North African sub-region, into turmoil. In Zimbabwe, President Mugabe’s ascension to power in 1980 was initially touted with praises and the country was declared ‘Africa’s best food security achiever’ by the western powers, but Mugabe out-rightly fell out with his godfathers over his land distribution policy that evicted white settler farmers and is now damned the worst president in Africa. Presently, Rwanda’s President Kigame and Uganda’s President Musoveni remain the darling boys of the West, even though we are not certain about how these fraternities might end up.

But on a more serious note, the West can be partly blamed for Africa’s financial and economic haemorrhage that has made the continent dependent on hand outs. Despite all its anti-corruption and extractive industry transparency preaching, the West still provide the safe haven for illicit fund siphoned out of Africa by corrupt ruling elites and rough mining multinational corporations. According to an African Union report, ‘more than US$ 150 billion a year is looted from Africa through tax avoidance by giant corporations  and capital flight using a pinstripe infrastructure of western banks, lawyers and accountants. This amount eclipses pledges made by leaders of the world’s richest nations to increase aid and write off debt at the G8 summit in Gleneagles in 2005 (UK Guardian, January 21, 2007)’. According to former South African President Thabo Mbeki and current chairman of the UN High Level Panel on illicit financial flow from Africa, ‘the African continent loses; at least, US$ 50 billion annually through illicit fund flows (Nigeria Premium Times, May 20, 2013). In Zimbabwe, the government retains 51% stakes in each mining contract signed with Chinese mining companies, but the western countries see a problem with that policy. In the DRC, apart from the Chinese mining contracts in which the state retains at least 32% stakes, the stakes of the state in all other mining contracts the government has signed with western mining companies do not go beyond 20% (Antoine Roger Lokongo, Pambazuka, July 10, 2013). But the western NGOs are completely silent about this state of affairs and western powers have the audacity to accuse African leaders of not being competent in corruption control and negotiation skills, only when it comes to corruption associated with hated African regimes and mining contract negotiation with China, right? What are really the western powers doing to stop illicit fund being safely kept in their countries? What are they also doing to stop their multinational corporations from coercing African governments into exploitative mining contracts?

Moreover, western powers are coercing Africans into a kind of ‘cultural colonialism’ by imposing western values and lifestyles that are not conducive to Africa’s cultural environment as they destroy social cohesion and the very social fabric of communities. For instance, why are the western powers urging African governments to decriminalize homosexuality that is strictly condemned by the Bible, the Quran, and the African traditional way of life? Africans are not urging Europeans and Americans to allow polygamy in their law books. Africans are not urging Americans to abolish the death penalty, sign the Kyoto Protocol and ICC Charter or ban guns. It would be good if Europeans and Americans do the same to Africans. If not, is that right?

If African authorities are only able to have a coherent Sino-African policy in place, then the rise and surge of China in Africa will have a positive impact on the continent. With its massive foreign currency reserves, China is intervening to solve problems in Africa like financing its extractive industry, developing its energy, agriculture and infrastructure to kick-start its manufacturing industry as an appropriate answer to its growing urbanization and urban youth unemployment. Contrastingly, in my view, most of Africa’s instability-related social, economic and political problems as mentioned above come from the West. But ironically, most of the aspirations for solutions to Africa’s problems, come from China. For instance, recently Africa has been affected by the devastating global financial crisis which was caused by corrupt western financial system, and had it not been for the Chinese FDI to Africa, the situation would have been much worse. So, the rise of China, where there are right policies in place, is having a much more positive impact than when the West met with Africa.

So, reality is that the West has to do more than China when it comes to wooing African cooperation. China only needs a little effort to tidy its shortcomings in Africa. China only need to: improve its very poor labour, employment and human rights conditions; improve its transaction transparency and corruption practices; improve its environmental treatments; and reduce its unhealthy competition with local infant industries and retailers. I am optimistic that China will make these improvements very soon.In contrast, the West has got more difficult assignments to do.The West has to:  admit, repent, and ask forgiveness (if not pay reparation) for its damages inflicted on the continent over the past 500 years; stop all its present covert and overt diabolical activities that continues to undermine the continent’s social, economic, political, cultural and technological stability; avoid its supreme arrogance and be ready to treat Africa with mutual respect as equal partner in a win-win basis; and build trust and prove to Africa that it is not a double standard slippery customer. But I am pessimistic about whether the West is likely to do these so soon.

Given these basic facts, it is my humble opinion that Africa is more likely to be wooed by the Chinese than there is the likelihood for President Obama’s western world. This is why it is my humble view that the way forward for Africa’s true development is to be united under the AU spirit and learn lessons from the Chinese way (Beijing Consensus) in order to forge a hybrid African way (Addis Consensus) instead of again luring toward the already centuries proven deceitful Western way (Washington Consensus), never mind President Obama’s charming persuasions.

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