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The Coming Apathy: Africa policy under a Bushadministration


Special to
USAfrica The Newspaper

InAfrica, a Bush White House will likely concentrate on helping its oilindustry friends reap maximum profits with minimum constraints, andit will have absolutely no sense of responsibility for past Americanmisadventures, or for global problems like AIDS or refugees.
But events and activism in Africa plus grassroots pressure in theU.S. and internationally could change all of that,
as it did during the White House tenure
of the last Republican Africaphobe.

"There's got to be priorities," George W. Bush responded when askedabout Africa in the second presidential campaign debate. Africa didnot make his short list: the Middle East, Europe, the Far East, andthe Americas. A Bush presidency portends a return to the blatantlyanti-African policies of the Reagan-Bush years, characterized by ageneral disregard for black people and a perception of Africa as asocial welfare case. Vice President Dick Cheney is widely expected tosteer the younger Bush on most policy matters especially foreignaffairs. Cheney's perspective on Africa in the 1980s was epitomizedby his 1986 vote in favor of keeping Nelson Mandela in prison and hisconsistent opposition to sanctions against apartheid SouthAfrica.

In Africa, a Bush White House will likely concentrate on helpingits oil industry friends reap maximum profits with minimumconstraints, and it will have absolutely no sense of responsibilityfor past American misadventures, or for global problems like AIDS orrefugees. But events and activism in Africa plus grassroots pressurein the U.S. and internationally could change all of that, as it didduring the White House tenure of the last Republican Africaphobe.

Ironically, those chosen to set international priorities for Bushwill likely include two loyal African-Americans, Colin Powell andCondoleezza Rice, who will probably not deviate from the Bush-Cheneyexclusion of Africa from the U.S. global agenda. Neither Powell norRice has shown any particular interest in or special knowledge ofAfrican issues. Both have repeatedly pledged their allegiance to astrong unilateralist view of the use of U.S. power, based on thetraditional geopolitical concepts of the national interest held bythe white American elite. Africans are invisible on their policyradar screens though all too visible on CNN for the Texas governor'staste.

"No one liked to see it on our TV screens," said Bush, when askedabout genocide in Rwanda in 1994, but Clinton "did the right thing,"he argued, in deciding not to act to stop the slaughter. Bush ignoredthe fact that the U.S. also failed to support and indeed blockedmultilateral action by the United Nations. This false dichotomybetween bilateral intervention and noninvolvement is common amongU.S. policymakers. But the concessions of Bush's team to multilateraloptions are likely to be particularly scant.

The need for multilateral support for peace and security ratherthan continued expansion of unaccountable bilateral military ties isone of the highest priority issues affecting Africa. But hard-lineU.S. unilateralism will likely make a bad situation worse. When notignoring African security crises, the new administration will likelyattempt to "delegate" African peacekeeping, using this as a rationalefor expanding relationships with privileged partners, such asNigeria, while denying resources for strengthening multilateralinvolvement. In fact, we may well see a repeat of this year'sabortive effort by congressional Republicans to cut funds for UNpeacekeeping in Africa to zero.

On two other African priority issues, however - debt cancellationand the HIV/AIDS pandemic - public pressure has a chance to crosstraditional political barriers and make unexpected breakthroughs, asdid the struggle for sanctions against apartheid in the Reagan era.Action on both issues currently receives at least nominal supportacross party lines, as evidenced in Bush's unexpected thoughqualified rhetorical endorsement of debt relief in the debates. Anysignificant action will require spending money and opposing vestedeconomic interests, and therefore movement on these issues willinitially become even more difficult than it has been to date. Butthere are openings.

Republican skepticism of multilateral institutions has even foundsome common ground with critics on the political left, as in theMeltzer Commission's criticism of international financialinstitutions and the recent congressional resolution mandating U.S.opposition to user fees for primary health and education in poorcountries. More narrowly, many favor debt cancellation for practicalbusiness reasons (those with unpayable debts are unlikely to be goodcustomers). If debt cancellation makes it high enough on the nextadministration's agenda, there will be room for debate on policy.

Complacency, however, is more likely. "We already did debt relieflast year," policymakers may disingenuously conclude, "and now poorcountries should take care of their own problems." The fact that themajority of countries affected are African will make it easy for aBush administration to give debt relief lower priority. In thecontext of a Bush presidency and a divided Congress, breaking throughthe systemic American disdain for Africa will not happen unless thereare real shifts in public perceptions, comparable to those thathappened in the 1980s regarding apartheid in South Africa. By anymeasure of catastrophic events in human history, the HIV/AIDSpandemic should serve as such a wake-up call.

At the end of the year 2000, there are more than 25 millionAfricans living with HIV/AIDS more than 70% of the adults and morethan 80 percent of the children who are infected worldwide. Almostfour million Africans were newly infected during the year 2000. Yetalmost no one in Africa is receiving the expensive treatments nowavailable to people living with HIV/AIDS in rich countries.

Pharmaceutical companies, under pressure, are offering discountson drugs. But they are also continuing their campaign against theproduction and import of generic alternatives. Congress approved theadministration request for a little more than $300 million in newfunds for HIV/AIDS worldwide in fiscal year 2001. Yet the scale ofthe catastrophe has still not struck home. Nor has the awareness thatAIDS' unequal impact both results from and reinforces economicinequalities, amounting to a global apartheid.

If we regard HIV/AIDS as just another disease, and those affectedas excluded from our common humanity, then the odds of making Africaa priority in the years ahead are low indeed. If its horrors canserve to remind enough of us of our common humanity, then even thosewith the most exclusionary agendas will be forced to respond. For theBush administration, it will be a clear choice between black gold andBlack people.
Dr. Booker is the director of both The Africa Fund in New York andthe Africa Policy Information Center in Washington.

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Bush's position on Africa is "ill-advised." The position stated by Republican presidential aspirant and Governor of Texas, George Bush where he said that "Africa will not be an area of priority" in his presidency has been questioned by Publisher Chido Nwangwu. He added that Bush's "pre-election position was neither validated by the economic exchanges nor geo-strategic interests of our two continents."

These views were stated during an interview CNN's anchor Bernard Shaw and senior analyst Jeff Greenfield had with Mr. Nwangwu on Saturday November 18, 2000 during a special edition of 'Inside Politics 2000.'
Nwangwu, adviser to the Mayor of Houston (the 4th largest city in the U.S., and immigrant home to thousands of Africans) argued further that "the issues of the heritage interests of 35 million African-Americans in Africa, the volume and value of oil business between between the U.S and Nigeria and the horrendous AIDS crisis in Africa do not lend any basis for Governor Bush's ill-advised position which removes Africa from fair consideration" were he to be elected president.
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"The American people have now spoken, but it's going to take a little while to determine exactly what they said." U.S. President Bill Clinton.
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Rev. Jesse Jackson and NAACP's Kweisi Mfume are leading the charge against intimidation of Blacks in Florida and west Vrginia during the November 8, 2000 elections.