Wednesday, 14 August 2013

NObama in Afrika

Barack Obama, the first black President of the United States of America (USA), visited Afrika in July 2013. According to the White House one of the key objectives of the Obama visit was to: ’extend the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) for another 10 years from 2015’. The African National Congress (ANC)-the ruling party in South Africa- argued that the Obama visit was to facilitate the signing of another round of the AGOA agreement and this will improve trade relations between African countries such as South Africa and the US. Obama seen as an Uncle Tom by Protesters in Johannesburg On the other hand, activists see AGOA as another US imperialist tool seeking to recolonize Africa. Way back in 2002, Mauritian activists Ram Seegobin and Lindsey Collen, said: ‘We must continue to expose AGOA for what it really is: a tool of US imperialism. At the same time we must expose the role of African ruling classes in using AGOA to dispossess peoples in Africa of our collective property, of our economic, social, civil and political rights, and of our sovereignty’. Obama visited Afrika and South Africa in particular in a context of a generalised scramble for Afrika which is viewed by commentators as a ‘growing economy’. According to Standard Bank, trade between China and Afrika has ‘doubled since 2007 to more than $200 billion (R2 trillion) and Chinese investment stands at $20bn’. China, the second largest economy in the world, has also committed, and is involved in a number of manufacturing and infrastructure projects on the continent. Another significant and recent global development is that Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa formed Brics which seeks to position developing countries as an economic and a political power bloc. Other critics of Brics have argued that South Africa has been included in Brics as a proxy for the rest of Africa. Elis Mnyandu, an economics journalist, states: ‘South Africa’s Brics membership is helpful in one obvious respect – and that is with regards to legitimising the Brics as a forum that also consists of a key player on the African continent’. We also have to remember that George W. Bush established Africom, military command structures, which claim ‘to be protecting the national security of the United States by boosting the capacity of African states to defend themselves against transnational threats’. In other words, the US has an economic and military presence on the Afrikan continent. Therefore Obama’s visit was meant to consolidate and extend the US imperialist interests on the continent in a context of a global power balance that really seeks to threaten the US dominance economically and politically. The US economy is also in a deep crisis and one of the indicators is that this year alone, the US national debt stands at about $16.5 trillion. Protester showing his disdain for Barack Obama in Pretoria, SA The South African activists in Cape Town and Johannesburg formed coalitions which sought to highlight the fact that the visit was part of strengthening the US imperialism on Afrika. More student formations in Gauteng have joined students of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) in opposition to UJ’s plan to confer an honorary degree on US President Barack Obama. The ‘No, UJ you can’t honour Obama’ Coalition said: ‘The report (The Stanford University) estimates drones have killed between 474 and 881 civilians, including 176 children. The drone strikes are assassinations without trial in a court of law, even when they strike the people targeted’. To highlight the demands and issues of ‘NOBAMA’ coalitions protest actions were held at the University of Johannesburg campuses and Cape Town. In fact, Obama’s foreign policy is consistent with his domestic policy. Those who opposed Obama visit to Afrika also amplified the fact that Obama has not transformed ’race’ relations in the US and, in fact, ‘racial’ profiling continues to be used as a tool for discriminating against black people. Writing in the ‘American Prospect’, Sophia Kerby argues: ‘ While people of color make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for 60 percent of those imprisoned. The prison population grew by 700 percent from 1970 to 2005, a rate that is outpacing crime and population rates. The incarceration rates disproportionately impact men of color: 1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men’. The Bureau of Justice Statistics also claims: ‘one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime’. But the self-certainty that black is negative is not confined to ‘white’ perception of ‘black’. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o Ngugi reflects on generalised ‘racial’ profiling and ‘self-certainty’: ‘I once took a Japanese lady, a family friend, to TM machine to get some money in’Newark. I was standing right behind her when a black lady walked past me and nudged the Japanese lady to be mindful about me. It could have been an act of female solidarity but I often wondered if she could have been so sure about my evil intentions had I been another color’. trayvon parentsThe Trayvon Martin case also highlighted ‘racial’ profiling and the unresolved national question in the US. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP): ‘We call immediately for the Justice Department to conduct an investigation into the civil rights violations committed against Trayvon Martin. This case has re-energized the movement to end racial profiling in the United States’. In progressive terms Zimmerman would be regarded as being black and part of the oppressed and an historical victims of colonialism. It was revealed that George Zimmerman’s historical origin is in Peru, a former colony of Spain. As Ngũgĩ pointed out that even the ‘oppressed’ can also act in manners that perpetuate ‘racial’ profiling. Cornel West, a renowned public intellectuals, had this to say about Obama: ‘a Rockefeller Republican in blackface and not someone who is actually looking out for the best interests of the impoverished’. West’s statement is consistent with the views of the coalitions opposed to the Obama visits. The coalitions criticised Obama for not fulfilling his elections promises. They stated: ’Obama promised to shut down Guantanamo Bay but it remains open, along with other secret prisons or ‘black sites’ on African soil, which continue the unlawful detention and torture of prisoners’. On the Palestinian question, the coalition at the University of Johannesburg said: ‘Although Obama has reprimanded the apartheid state of Israel, his administration continues to finance the oppression of Palestinians’. One of the demands of the protest actions in Soweto was that Obama’s regime should stop persecuting and victimising whistle-blowers such as Edward Snowden and Bradely Manning. In conclusion, the Obama visit to Afrika and South Africa acted as a reminder for those opposed to imperialism and US imperialism in particular about a need to consistently foreground international solidarity in daily struggles. While many academics, commentators and the some in the public were ‘pleased’ to have Obama as a visitor, the coalitions opposed to the visit basically argued that being the first black President of the US and the President whose origins are in Africa does not grant Obama and his regime a license to violate the rights of the working people and the poor in America and the world. The challenge that faces the coalitions will be the ‘mainstreaming’ of international solidarity in daily struggle of the working people and the poor.

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