An African Perspective

Henry C.K. Liu hliu at
Sun Dec 17 13:13:27 MST 2000

The following was sent to me by a friend in the Chinese Embassy
in Kenya.
It views US politics from an African perspective, albeit a less
than radical one.

Henry C.K. Liu

The Nation -    A major nespaper in Kenya
 Sunday, December 17, 2000

 Bush's triumph a big loss for all Africans


 It's over. George Walker Bush is now set to become the 43rd
President of the United States. For the purposes of the rest of
us, W. is the next Global Cop. Let's hope that, among other
things, he now knows Nigeria is not an "important continent"
but an important country in Africa. Let's hope, too, that
somebody will whisper to him that Kenya is not the name of some
exotic Caribbean cuisine.

For Al Gore, it is a sad farewell from all those in Africa who
cling to the conviction that candidates of the US Democratic
Party are somewhat better attuned to the world beyond America
and are, therefore, a little more sympathetic to African issues.
It's small comfort that Gore won the popular vote, only to lose
out in the electoral college tally. This odd anomaly is
something the US lawmakers will want to sort out with finality
to avoid another cock-up in the future. And, when they are  at
it, they may wish to knock a few heads in Florida for all the
trouble the state's electorate brought.

 Undoubtedly, the person Africa is going to miss the most is
William Jefferson Clinton, aka Bill Clinton, his impeachment
woes and his adulterous weaknesses notwithstanding. Without
exaggeration, he has been the best thing in the White House to
happen to Africa and the Black people, even if only
symbolically. Still, the symbolism has been huge, starting with
two extended tours of Black Africa that were unprecedented in US
presidential history.

Back home, his administration oversaw the appointments of the
largest number of African-Americans to senior positions ever.
Toni Morrison, the first Black American Nobel literature
laureate, was not being entirely whimsical when she hailed
Clinton as the "first African-American President of the United

Most US administrations are content to delegate the conduct of
their African policies to not-too-senior State Department
retainers. Clinton quite often took a more than casual interest.
He was personally involved in the passage of the so-called
African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA). Despite some
misgivings from various African interests, it amounts to the
most important piece of legislation meant to benefit Africa to
emerge from Washington in a long time.

Clinton is too sly and cynical a politician, though, to do
things out of altruism. It is doubtful that his forays into
Africa were timed without any electoral or political calculation
back home, specifically with regard to the African-American
community, a loyal Democratic Party constituency in which
Clinton remains wildly popular.

Certainly Gore's worst goof was his decision to rebuff Clinton
from taking any active role in this campaign, partly fearing a
Monica Lewinsky fallout. That was foolish. Sure, it was
understandable for Gore, like anybody else, to want to be seen
as his own man not being propelled by another politician,
however talented.

But shutting off Clinton deprived Gore of the active use of a
man with the charisma and political skills the latter sorely
lacks. At the very least, Clinton should have been asked to lend
a hand in his home state of Arkansas, which Gore lost, as he did
also  "embarrassingly" in his own home state of Tennessee. If
Gore had at least carried  Arkansas with its six electoral
college votes, Florida would have become irrelevant
and Bush would now be history.

 It is not inconceivable that Clinton could very well find
himself back in the White House at some point in the future. Not
as the President, of course, but as the spouse to one. That
would be none other than his formidable wife, Hillary Rodham.
The thought is not far-fetched. She has now been elected to the
Senate. The buzz is  that this is only a pit stop. After a
couple of terms, pundits are betting that she will go for the
very top seat. Could she thus become the first woman US
president?  Quite possibly, but only if her husband learns to
behave himself in retirement.

 To committed Nyayoists, the name Bush brings back awful
memories. They still feel a deep antipathy for the
administration of George Bush the Elder, which they blame for
dragging them into the pit of multi-partism when America won the
Cold War. It doesn't matter that, to Bush senior, as to the son,
Kenya in its insignificance hardly registered in his personal
radar. What is remembered with undying bitterness is that it was
that administration that dispatched as ambassador one Smith
Hempstone, a name the Nyayoists rate only slightly better than

 Our Government can take some comfort in one thing: Hempstone
will not be  brought back, even with this latest Bush
restoration. But the traditional Republican disengagement which
those African countries anxious to hide something are praying
for may no longer be banked on in this day of globalisation.
Worse, Republicans tend to have a Black-and-White view of the
world and are impatient with those who, like Kenya, like to
plead for "special African circumstances".

Africa's unease with George W. Bush was justifiably vindicated
when the candidate remarked, during his televised debates with
Gore, that our continent did not matter that much to American
interests. It may be true that Africa accounts for only a tiny
fraction of overall US trade with the world. It may also be true
that, save for Nigerian oil and some precious minerals imported
from Central Africa, this continent is no big deal, economically
or strategically, to the United States.

Yet such reasoning is narrow. It ill-befits a superpower that
hankers to be seen as a global force for good. There are issues
in Africa that go beyond trade or economic interests. Africa is
plagued with poverty, disease, hunger, refugees, bad governance
and a million and one other woes. Then there is Aids, which
threatens to claim millions of the most able-bodied and
productive Africans.

All these problems cry out for solutions. America obviously
should have a role to play. A policy of neglect would not be the
right thing to adopt. It is the most powerful country and also
the richest. Quite rightly, America is entitled to do whatever
it wants with its money and power, and not necessarily be
bothered with places like Africa. But ultimately, when you
aspire to global leadership and want to be recognised as such,
you have a duty to engage with all and sundry, even the poor and
the wretched.

Just as America is helping uplift the emerging economies of
Eastern Europe, the Third World has a right to ask for similar
treatment. It is not merely a question of alms. It is more a
question of America encouraging an environment where all peoples
will get a level chance to seek prosperity. Institutions such as
the World Trade Organisation, which regulates the terms of
global trade, tend to sway to America's tune. So do others, like
the IMF and the World Bank, which poor countries look up to for
support. They are all generally perceived as insensitive, rigid
and unwilling to reform.

Helping lift Africa up should not be seen by America as simply a
moral duty, important as that is. There is a clear self-interest
in the enterprise. A total African collapse would surely rock
global stability like nothing else, triggering effects that the
world and America will find most unpleasant. Will somebody tell
George W. this?

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