By Dikembe Disembe
Can Odinga use his current US tour to recast core issues in Africa-America relations?
To be a global leader you must address global phenomena. Donge?
Increasingly, America and Europe is facing new political and economic realities in places which traditional stick and carrot diplomacy would have succeeded.
Last year, Kenya rejected America’s “choices and consequences” warning and boldly elected (sic) an indicted president and deputy into office. And while president Uhuru Kenyatta’s win remains intellectually contestable, by and large, its campaign successes largely hinged on anti-American and anti-EUÂ propaganda.
Just recently, Uganda signed an anti-gay bill into law. Nigeria too had done so. America and Europe had warned of consequences. But, like Kenya, the regime in Kampala and Abuja defied. America and Europe did nothing.
Outside Africa, Russians too invaded Ukraine. Crimea has successfully held a secession referendum, leaving America and Europe with a rotten diplomatic egg in the face. A Russian journalist had the audacity to say: “Russia is the only country in the world that is realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash”.
It seems the world has cornered America and Europe. The world no longer pays attention to Washington.The world is convinced it can move on without the Almighty fear of America. The sun is setting on the British empire.
America can talk. America can warn. America can threaten. But America cannot act. Should it act, those actions can be countered. Europe too.
As America and Europe lose out on this 21st century ‘third world’ diplomacy, important elements of western democracy continue to die out. Listening to the rhetoric polemics in Kenya and Uganda, the cost of America and Europe being in the back-seat of democracy cannot be gainsaid.
Human rights, civil society, opposition politics are the biggest casualties. America can fund civil societies and human rights bodies but it can no longer influence policy thinking in Africa.
America can fund third world governments through foreign aid, grants, student scholarships and technical exchanges but it seems it cannot shape the legislative thinking in those governments.
Many of the policy-makers in most third world governments are former international scholarship students who studied in “prestigious” Â America Universities. Yet, these Harvard, Yale, Cornell and Amherst alumni have failed to bring the ‘best’ of American democracy in the governance of their own countries.Â Whether they came back from London School of Economics or Kennedy School of Government, those who were educated in the ‘western world’ to become future ‘African leaders’ have in many occasions depleted the coffers of their countries.
In the governments they run, or lead, conditionalities are not working. Choices have no consequences. Fed up but defenceless citizens Â who agitate for change are left on the devices of authoritarian governments woven out of ethnic tyrannies based solely on exclusion of one group or another.
America and Europe no longer have the moral authority to champion democracy and good governance in places like Africa. In South Sudan, America and Europe quickly ‘evacuated’ its nationals, leaving hapless, defenceless African citizens to sort themselves out.
The lid on American protectionism opens wide when it ought to close. During such instances, Africans die.
America and Europe used to work closely with African governments, now even working with citizens is no longer guaranteed. For instance, in Kenya, a great majority, though sinking in poverty and hopelessness, are swearing to stand with their government than the gay-obsessed neo-colonialists and their ‘local sympathisers’.
America and Britain still fully sponsor Africans to study in its universities and centres of innovation and leadership, yet it cannot be guaranteed that these western educated future policy-makers will bring their knowledge and experiences to uproot swathes of their brothers from the dis-empowering conditions that persists in their countries. Paradoxically, these western educated brains become the ruling elites in Africa whose synonym is insatiable greed and hunger for power. . .at any cost.
America and Europe still gives scholarships to African journalists to study in its prestigious media schools; but that does not mean these journalists will not spin the truth and cover up for the highest bidder. It does not mean they will not take purely ethnic and sectarian positions on issues which need a journalist to be neutral, objective and honest.
Countries like Kenya are witnessing the ingenious use of western knowledge, legal and political practices to further condemn millions of already disenfranchised people to abject penury.
Africa’s renaissance is being built on America and Europe’s perceived powerlessness – diplomatically speaking – to lead the world.
The continent is gaining its foothold, not by massive inventions in the sciences or transformational wonders of technological advancements but on the the empty threats, followed by inaction, of Europe and America. A government in Africa which cannot barely feed its citizens or employ its youth is seen to be strong if it can ‘stand up’ to America and Europe’s cultural imperialism, or vulture capitalism of its numerous multinationals in the continent.
Fatalities litter everywhere where this inaction has been experienced. In Uganda, offence and assault on gay people isn’t driven more by African hate for own brother but by abhorrence of the Big Brother’s terms of engagement.
America and Europe’s comments are more wanted by Africa’s strongmen, who twist them to achieve own ends. In Uganda, the incumbent president there is already a darling for the masses because it stood up to homosexuals, which, in the tried and tested Kenyan fashion, represents America’s ‘interference in local affairs’ of the country.
America’s threats to most Africa’ governments and leaders is hurting, both socially and economically, more poor folks than the African rich and wealthy.
The top one percent in Africa do not need to tighten their belts when sanctions are rolled out. They do not need to worry for their security and the education of their children when wars break out. Africa’s wealthy are not hurt by reduced healthcare funding by donors.
Their children do not study in Africa. The parents do not need medication in Africa. They don’t even store their money in African banks! While an average Zimbabwean cannot afford to put his child through to the university without loans, President Mugabe’s daughter recently graduated from an exclusive university in Singapore!
The same is the norm across ruling families in Africa. Whether in opposition or government, African elites are better off with or without America’s checks on their governments. This is because America cannot stop them from dealing with China, or Russia.
The world is moving forward. Societies are writing their development manifestos. Whether vision 2020 or vision 2030, or a new constitution, emergent democracies and dictatorships are raring to go. Because states are ‘equal’ in the international arena, pronouncements by one state on the affairs of another can be rebuffed on such ‘equal terms’. America continues to talk but now, someone can respond, and the response doesn’t have to be meekly a ‘yes’. In fact, the loudest responses to America’s ‘suggestions’ have often been a big ‘no’.
The worst casualties have been opposition politicians. Whenever incumbents want to raise ethnic emotions so as to get free support, they only have to point to the ‘contradictions’ by the western world. A new age of African racism is at hand; where leaders ‘warn their people’ of new attempts by (white) colonialists and (white) imperialists to make a second return for the raw materials!
Africans are increasingly being reminded: “you must stand up for your independence. . .you must protect your sovereignty”. And look who is talking? The same African plunderers and bloody dictators! The same resource sellouts to China!
In most countries in Africa currently at loggerheads with America and Europe, rulers are not the buffoon dictator types. The last of the buffoon types died ages ago.
The current crop of African leaders are scions of independence era ‘beneficiaries’ of American and Europe’s negotiated self-rule.
Their fathers traded well with America and Europe. America and Europe exists in Africa in these people’s names and companies.
Top shareholders in western/American multinationals are Africa’s ruling elites, the children of independence era money and privilege.
Truth is, this new craze of ‘standing up’ to America or Europe is not about the citizens of African countries. It is about the leaders of African citizens.
For African citizens, it doesn’t count whether it is American ‘democracy’ or Chinese ‘friendship’. African citizens have in the post-colonial Africa enjoyed the excesses of both. Both the West and the East plunder Africa. Analogically, what’s happening now is that America and Europe which used to eat with grumbling sound is being told to ‘eat quietly’. The noise now belongs to Russia and China!
Can Raila Odinga recharacterize a new debate of what America and Europe “mean” in 21st century Africa and the third world? Maybe he can, or, maybe, he cannot!