Africa to Obama: Mind your own business

“[The US] was complicit in the murder of Patrice Lumumba, supported apartheid South Africa against Nelson Mandela and his African National Congress (ANC, whom it declared terrorists), financed the terrorist organisation National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), and propped up incompetent and corrupt tyrants like Mobutu, Samuel Doe, and Siad Barre.

Instead of coming to lecture, Obama should have had the humility to come and apologise to Africans for his country’s sadistic adventures on our continent.”

US President Obama’s long-anticipated visit to Kenya this month has been met with a mixed reaction from across the African continent. Amongst the fanfare and warm welcome he received from Kenyans, there was a noticeable, and rightfully (in my opinion) indignant rumbling of dissent from a number of Kenyan and African journalists, bloggers and Tweeters about the arrogance and hypocrisy of his address.

To increasingly see these opinions, views and concerns appearing in the mainstream like green shoots through concrete is thrilling and emboldening. That’s not to say that what’s being said is new – fighting Western imperialism, hypocrisy and arrogance has been an ongoing struggle for centuries; but to see the blows coming thick and fast, unapologetic, spreading, sharpening, and shared more widely than ever via the magic of social media, is weaving a new kind of narrative.

There have been many great articles and tweets written about the visit, but I thought I’d share my favourite from Ugandan journalist Andrew M Mwenda, founder of The Independent, a news magazine in East Africa. His opinion piece in Al Jazeera, published today, is a brilliant read and something that I feel can be addressed to all Western governments – ‘mind your own business’. I hope he won’t mind me sharing this with you (you can read the original here).

Africa to Obama: Mind your own business

United States President Barack Obama is the most admired foreign leader in Africa because he has ancestral roots in our continent.

This is partly the reason his ill-informed and stereotypical admonitions of our leaders attracted cheers from a large section of our elite class.

But it is also because we African elites have internalised the ideology of our conquerors that presents us as inferior, inadequate, and incapable of self-government.

Bob Marley’s words that we must liberate ourselves from mental slavery are important here.

In his speech to the African Union in Addis Ababa on Tuesday, Obama acted like a colonial headman lecturing the natives on how to behave as good subjects.

Yet behind Obama’s seeming concern for our good lies the social contempt he holds us in.

Flagrant hypocrisy

Why doesn’t Obama openly admonish leaders of Western Europe whenever he visits their countries? Is it because they govern better? Who has the right to make this judgement and by what criteria?

There is a lot of corruption and widespread human rights abuses (especially of migrant minorities) in Western Europe – not to mention the brutality, genocides, forced labour, and racism that characterised their governance of Africa during colonial rule.

The difference between Africa and these nations is that we are poorer in material possessions. But does their present wealth imply better governance?

To use Jean Bricmont’s analogy from his book Humanitarian Imperialism, the US and Western Europe behave like a mafia godfather who, as he grows old, decides to defend law and order and begins to attack his lesser colleagues in crime, preaching brotherly love and the sanctity of human life – all the while holding onto his ill-gotten wealth and the income it generates.

Who would fail to denounce such flagrant hypocrisy? In any case, is the US such a model country in governance to give Obama the moral authority to lecture Africans?

In the US, a black person is killed by the highly militarised police force every 28 hours.

Scores of black people in the US are stopped and searched every minute for no other reason than the colour of their skin.

Blacks constitute 12-13 percent of the US population but 43 percent of its prison population. Although there are only 33 million blacks in the US, there are one million (nearly four percent) of them in jail.

Indeed, the incarceration rate of blacks in the US is 10 times that of blacks in apartheid South Africa.

According to Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, there are double the number of blacks in jail than in college.

There are more black people in jail today than were enslaved in 1850; and more blacks are disenfranchised today than in 1875, when the 15th amendment prohibiting discrimination in voting rights based on race was passed.

In Obama’s hometown of Chicago, the total population of black males with a felony record is 80 percent of the adult black male workforce.

The 48 countries of sub-Saharan Africa Obama admonishes have a combined population of 961 million and their total prison population is 830,000.

If sub-Saharan Africa jailed its people at the same rate as the US jails its black population, we would have 38.4 million people in jail.

Dehumanising Africans

But these are not the only state abuses in the US.

There are mass surveillance programmes that allow the federal government to eavesdrop on almost every communication of American citizens and allies, the indefinite imprisonment without trial and torture of suspects in Guantanamo Bay and other illegal detention facilities around the world.

The corruption of Washington and Wall Street – where corporate profits are privatised and losses nationalised – goes without saying. 

Invading sovereign nations and toppling their governments while leaving chaos in their wake, the large scale use of drones which kill innocent civilians in Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are the kind of crimes the US commits.

This is not an argument of two wrongs making a right. Rather it is to show that Obama’s choice to lecture Africa is a product of the social contempt he and his countrymen and women have for black people.

Many African leaders do not treat their people with the cruel contempt with which the US treats its black citizens. 

True some of our leaders use the police against their political rivals. But the US uses its police daily against innocent poor black people who are not even contesting for political power from the white financial, industrial, and military aristocracy that rules that country.

Why dehumanise them?

Lecturing Africans

Contrary to Obama’s self-appointed role as the secular priest of good governance, Africans fight for more freedom, democracy, and clean government daily.

And in these struggles, the US has consistently sided with our oppressors.

It was complicit in the murder of Patrice Lumumba, supported apartheid South Africa against Nelson Mandela and his African National Congress (ANC, whom it declared terrorists), financed the terrorist organisation National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), and propped up incompetent and corrupt tyrants like Mobutu, Samuel Doe, and Siad Barre.

Instead of coming to lecture, Obama should have had the humility to come and apologise to Africans for his country’s sadistic adventures on our continent.

Indeed, Obama has no moral right to lecture Africans on democracy, human rights, and clean government because his country has been sponsoring corrupt and cruel policies against black people at home and thieving tyrants on our continent.

If there are weaknesses in our governance they are ours to struggle against and overcome.

Steven Biko, a hero of the anti-apartheid struggle, said that the greatest weapon in the hands of an oppressor is never his guns and armies, but the mind of the oppressed.

This was clear from the assembled African elites in Addis Ababa who were cheering Obama as he presented himself as the altruist advising our leaders on how to lead us better.

Like all imperial powers before it, the US seeks to dominate the world in order to exploit it. This is how it sustains her greedy consumption.

But to disguise its intentions, the US rewrites history, employs selective indignation, and chooses arbitrary priorities to present its selfish agenda.

Obama being of African ancestry is the best puppet the US uses to disguise its contempt for Africans. But the best he can do is to mind his own business and let us mind ours.

What do you think of Obama’s visit to Kenya and of his speech? Please feel free to share your thoughts, or other interesting posts and articles on the topic.

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Reclaiming History: Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners

In my opinion those businesses and countries that profited from slavery and are flourishing today should pay reparations and balance power in politics and economics for those nations from which slaves came. It will never be enough, but it’s better than barely acknowledging it, denying it and continuing to benefit from the continued subjugation and disempowerment of those nations.

African Heritage

Slave capture Slave capture

Yesterday, David Olusoga of BBC Two published a documentary on Britain’s Slave Owners part 1: Profit and Loss. His work was very profound, and was of course very painful, as it dealt with slavery. Here is the synopsis, from BBC Two website:

“In 1834 Britain abolished slavery, a defining and celebrated moment in our national history. What has been largely forgotten is that abolition came at a price. The government of the day took the extraordinary step of compensating the slave owners for loss of their ‘property’, as Britain’s 46,000 slave owners were paid £17bn in today’s money, whilst the slaves received nothing.

The Transatlantic slave trade The Transatlantic slave trade

For nearly 200 years, the meticulous records that detail this forgotten story have lain in the archives virtually unexamined – until now. In an exclusive partnership with University College London, historian David Olusoga uncovers Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners…

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NEWS: BRICS bank launches, boosting Chinese influence

A new $100 billion international development bank backed by developing countries launched in Shanghai on Tuesday, in what official Chinese media called a challenge to Western-backed international lenders.

The New Development Bank came after three years of negotiations among members of BRICS — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The launch comes soon after the formation of another multilateral bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which was organized by Beijing.

“Obviously, the new institutions are going to break the monopoly of the World Bank. Now, there will be more options for borrowers, who will look for the best terms among different institutions,” Bala Ramasamy, professor of economics at the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai said.

China is expected to dominate both institutions. It has the biggest share at 31 percent in the AIIB. In the NDB, it is contributing equally with the four other countries in the $50 billion initial capital, which will be doubled later on. But China has taken a 41 percent share in a $100 billion contingency fund, which was announced by NDB on Tuesday.

China as global banker

“It seems China is going to play an increasingly bigger role through the new institutions,” Ramasamy said. “Developed countries like the United States and the United Kingdom will be forced to increase their roles, and review their relationship with the developing world.”

Some analysts say that the new banks are relatively small compared to the World Bank, and challenging it at a serious level will be difficult. Critics of the new banking institutions also have questioned whether the projects they finance will have provisions protecting human rights and enforcing environmental safeguards.

The NDB may not be able to compete with the World Bank in terms of low interest rates because of its higher cost of borrowings. Any future bonds by the NDB will be judged on the basis of the credit ratings of its member countries.

“The NDB and the AIIB may want to break the monopoly of World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. That is their ambition. But do they have the confidence to do so at this stage? I have to say ‘no,’” said Liu Xiaoxue, a researcher at the Beijing-based National Institute of International Strategy.

Competitors or collaborators?

M.V. Kamath, the first president of NDB, an Indian banker, addressed the bank’s relations with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other major lenders at the inauguration ceremony on Tuesday.

“Our objective is not to challenge the existing system as it is but to improve and complement the system in our own way,” he said.

He also indicated NDB will coordinate policies with the AIIB by establishing a “hotline” to improve communications.

The new institutions might also need help from the World Bank and established institutions like the Asian Development Bank for project assessment expertise and joint financing. The AIIB and the World Bank are already discussing joint financing of specific projects, and this might be extended to the NDB.

“Some parts we learn from the World Bank, some parts we try to do things differently,” Zhu Xian, vice president of NDB, told China Central Television on Tuesday. “We will complement with each other with the World Bank and other international development banks. But in some projects, there will be competition.”

Funding Chinese projects

Chinese finance minister Lou Jiwei made it clear the NDB and the AIIB will work together.

“It [NDB]will also complement the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and both will share operational experience and strengthen cooperation when the projects start.”

China’s goal is to get the new bank to finance its “One Belt, One Road” program that involves constructing a chain of infrastructure projects across the world. Beijing sees it as a means to revive its own economy by obtaining contracts for Chinese construction companies and machinery suppliers.

“The bank will provide new driving force to accelerate the global economic recovery by supporting infrastructure projects and expanding global demand,” Lou said.

Critics say the World Bank takes an overly rule-bound approach to project assessment, and often rejects proposals that its experts consider to be environmentally unsustainable. The new banks are expected to take a different approach.

“I would say the NDB will conduct proper environment impact assessment. But it is going to try and reduce the negative environment impact of projects from developing countries instead of entirely rejecting them,” Ramasamy said.

Source: Voice of America

Craig Murray: IMF and USA set to ruin Ghana

Having heard back in England that Dumsor (the frequent and lengthy power cuts Ghana experiences) is the work of the IMF and the USA, not a hydroelectric dam running low on water as many Ghanians have told me, I wanted to investigate further.

Where I stay Dumsor has been a sometimes predictable and sometimes erratic visitor – generally we’ve had 24 hours of electricity, followed by 12 hours blackout, with frequent pattern changes. It’s been fine for me as a novelty and being privileged enough to be staying in a house with access to a generator if we need it, but for Ghanians living here permanently; needing access to power and lights to run businesses, to cook and store food, to study and communicate – it’s frustrating – especially when there seems to be so little clarity about what’s actually going on. Promise after promise comes from the Government as to a date when the situation will be resolved, but it’s become a permanent fixture in Ghana, and people have had enough. There’s even a song about it (by one of the best Ghanaian musicians IMO)…

This week on citifmonline, a Ghanian radio website, I came across an article reposted from the website of Craig Murray (author, broadcaster, human rights activist and former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan), which confirmed my fears about IMF and US involvement in the power cuts.

Here is the article in full, originally posted on www.craigmurray.org.uk. I hope Craig won’t mind me reposting it (I’ve just emailed him…)

“Just ten years ago, Ghana had the most reliable electricity supply in all of Africa and the highest percentage of households connected to the grid in all of Africa – including South Africa.

The Volta River Authority, the power producer and distributor was, in my very considerable experience, the best run and most efficient public utility in all of Africa. Indeed it was truly world class, and Ghana was proud of it.

Obviously the sight of truly successful public owned and run enterprise was too much of a threat to the neo-liberal ideologues of the IMF and World Bank. When Ghana needed some temporary financial assistance (against a generally healthy background) the IMF insisted that VRA be broken up. Right wing neoliberal dogma was applied to the Ghanaian electricity market. Electricity was separated between production and distribution, and private sector Independent Power Producers introduced.

The result is disaster. There are more power cuts in Ghana than ever in its entire history as an independent state. Today Ghana is actually, at this moment, producing just 900 MW of electricity – half what it could produce ten years ago. This is not the fault of the NDC or the NPP. It is the fault of the IMF.

Those private sector Independent Power Producers actually provide less than 20% of electricity generation into the grid – yet scoop up over 60% of the revenues! The electricity bills of Ghana’s people go to provide profits to fat cat foreign corporations and of course the western banks who finance them.

Indeed in thirty years close experience the net result of all IMF activity in Africa is to channel economic resources to westerners – and not to ordinary western people, but to the wealthiest corporations and especially to western bankers.

Not content with the devastation they have already caused, the IMF and the USA are now insisting on the privatisation of ECG, the state utility body which provides electricity to the consumer and bills them. The rationale is that a privatised ECG will be more efficient and ruthless in collecting revenue from the poor and from hospitals, clinics, schools and other state institutions.

Doubtless it will be. It will of course be more efficient in channelling still more profits to very rich businessmen and bankers. I suspect that is the real point. That privatised utilities bring better service and cheaper prices to the consumer has been conclusively and forever disproven in the UK. What it does bring is huge profits to the rich and misery to the poor. To unleash this on Ghana is acutely morally reprehensible.

Ghana has a political culture in which the two main parties, NDC and NPP, heatedly blame each other for their country’s problems. But if they only can see it, in truth the electricity sector has been ruined by their common enemy – the IMF and World Bank. I pray that one day the country will escape the grip of these bloodsucking institutions.”

I’m going to do what I can to find out more while I’m here, but if anyone knows any more I’d be grateful if you’d get in touch. I’d also be interested to hear what you think of this.

NEWS: Modi critic under investigation in India amid crackdown on foreign charities

According to Reuters India’s leading crime-fighting agency registered a case on Wednesday against a prominent critic of the prime minister for accepting foreign funds, amid concerns that overseas charities are interfering in the country’s domestic affairs.

An official at the Central Bureau of Investigation said Teesta Setalvad faces charges of fraud, misappropriation of funds and violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act. She did not respond to a request for comment.

A home ministry official said an investigation by government auditors revealed her non-governmental organization, Sabrang Trust, was accepting funds from the U.S.-based Ford Foundation without government permission.”The NGO was cheating the government and even the donors,” said a senior home ministry official, requesting anonymity. Since the start of the year, India’s government has canceled the registration of nearly 9,000 charities for failing to declare details of donations from overseas. Earlier this year, the Ford Foundation, one of the world’s largest charitable funds, was put on a watch list after the home ministry said it was investigating the funding to Setalvad’s group. A spokesperson for the Ford Foundation did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Critics have argued that the government’s crackdown is an attempt to stifle the voices of those who oppose Modi’s agenda. Setalvad has pursued legal cases against Modi accusing him of failing to stop anti-Muslim rioting in 2002 when at least 1,000 people died in attacks on his watch as chief minister of Gujarat. Modi denies the accusations.

(Reporting By Rupam Jain Nair; Editing by Andrew MacAskill)

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Letter to My Son

“Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.”

This letter, published on 4th July by Ta-Nehisi Coates and written to his 15-year-old son is painful, uncomfortable, crushing, important, necessary, honest and true. There is nothing else for me to say. Read it. When you read it you’ll understand why it has been written, or maybe you won’t.

Read the letter here.

#TheAfricaTheMedia NeverShowsYou

You’ll have heard me talking in the past about working with a group, Simua, which we hoped would give birth to a campaign to challenge stereotypes of Africa perpetuated by the media, by NGOs, by our governments, by us. For various reasons we didn’t launch it, so I am so unbelievably delighted to see #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou taking off on Twitter.

You might remember that my initial reasons for writing this blog were these: 

“as I have become more involved in the world of international development and increasingly started to wonder about how effective some of the practices are, and how seemingly patronising some of the representations are of ‘developing countries’.”

 And it’s so true. Google Africa. Go to images and you’ll see, amongst a whole host of maps of the continent, hundreds of variations on sunsets, Acacia trees and giraffes. Second to that it’s images of war, poverty and hunger. So a group of young Africans on Twitter have been tweeting under the hashtag #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou, and it’s growing by the second with pictures of the diversity, individuality, joy, creativity and beauty of the huge continent, its countries, people, food, architecture, fashion, religion, cultures, art, societies, politics and communities.

Diana Salah, who helped to organise the campaign, told Fusion: “I got involved because growing up, I was made to feel ashamed of my homeland, with negative images that paint Africa as a desolate continent. It’s so important to showcase the diversity and beauty of Africa and with the mainstream media not up for the task, social media was the perfect outlet.” Yes the continent has its issues, just as EVERY OTHER CONTINENT ON THE PLANET… and this is the chance for Africans to tell their own stories, rather than having them prescribed by external influences.

I believe that it is important to remember that, despite the joy of such campaigns and the need to educate people around the world, Africa has nothing to prove. In my opinion, all that needs to happen is that the economic/political/cultural barriers need to be removed to allow the continent to flourish in its own way, do it’s own thing and ‘develop’ in its own image. Europe, the USA and increasingly China (and others), have screwed up the world, and continue to do so – they could learn a lot from Africa, the only continent that doesn’t export its violence, self-interest, destruction and greed.

Some of the favourites:

You can see more of the amazing images here.