Many African nations are approaching their 50th anniversary of independence this year, but have they achieved independence worth celebrating? The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing on Africa exemplified a troubling trend among the world’s leading economic powers, characterizing relations with African nations in vividly imperialist terms. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) emphasized twice during the hearing that “Africa is the continent for America in the 21st century.” The troubling truth is that U.S. economic and military imperialism is accelerating, as the scramble to dominate African resources takes on a new dimension and direct competition with China intensifies.
The purpose of the Senate hearing was to review the nomination of eight new U.S. ambassadors to African posts, but the discussion remained focused on African economic trends, overshadowing important issues of human rights atrocities, political instability, and development initiatives in the countries in question: Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Zambia, Côte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, the Central African Republic, Gabon and Sao Tomé and Principe. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Isakson opened the hearing by optimistically depicting Africa’s economic potential, lauding its recent meager GDP growth of 4.9 percent, and encouraging the ambassadors to cultivate more bilateral trade relations. Each nominee in turn tipped his hat (yes, all were men) to this economic opportunism, pledging to support the interests of his respective African state “second only to American citizens and interests.”
Repeated promises of U.S. resources were also made to train and equip indigenous African security forces. Although only Thomas Dougherty, “Ambassador to be” of Burkina Faso, specifically referred to AFRICOM, the nominees’ repeated pledges for enhanced security almost certainly mean a renewed commitment to the ill-conceived command. The support for AFRICOM disregards serious concerns about the command’s methods and mandate. For example, the notion that increased military presence is what Africa needs to create security overlooks the root causes of conflict — poverty, disease, marginalization of certain groups — and the serious need for stronger civilian oversight and independent legal institutions. AFRICOM is known to train and equip numerous abusive regimes with grave human rights violations, such as the Gabonese military that killed several dozen people in Port-Gentil following the election results in September of 2009.
The bipolar Cold War mentality of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was made most overtly apparent, however, in the sole question posed by the committee to each nominee. The question of utmost importance seemed to be, “Is China present in a growing capacity?” (Translation: “Should the U.S. feel threatened?”)
Adding a moral dimension to the competition for resources, Isakson vilified the nation, warning, “China will use its friends and funds for, I think, more self-centered purposes.” It is a sorry joke to pretend that all U.S. activity on the continent is for legitimate, benevolent purposes. In 2000, 71.6 percent of bilateral aid commitments to the continent required that goods and services needed for development be purchased from US companies. Economic colonization of Africa is alive and well, and the U.S. is as much a perpetrator as China.