It was never about Africa qua Africa

Burt Prelutsky today, in a longer column about Obama’s political failings, launches into a blistering attack against US aid to Africa:

Speaking of Africa, when are we going to wean the dark continent? Are we ever going to get over this nutty notion that we have an obligation to keep pumping money down that particular sewer? It’s bad enough that George Bush is convinced that billions of American tax dollars — money that could better be spent trying to cure Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and ALS — should be squandered dealing with AIDS in Africa, but Obama has already endorsed the U.N.-inspired giveaway known as the Global Poverty Act. It’s estimated that filling this particular Christmas stocking would run us $845 billion. Worse yet, most of this largesse would wind up in the pockets or Swiss bank accounts of those various thugs, such as Omar al-Bashir, Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo, Isayas Afeworki and the aforementioned Robert Mugabe, who run Africa the way that Al Capone ran Chicago.

What Prelutsky rather surprisingly forgets is that America’s political and economic involvement in Africa was never really about the Africans.  That is, while a bunch of individuals and NGOs today may be genuinely concerned about the plight of individual citizens in that benighted continent, the West’s support for Africa was simply an outcropping of the Cold War.  Once the old Imperialism vanished, Africa was the place of a thousand proxy battles between the Americans and the Soviets.  Savvy tinpot tyrants in Africa, freed from the benefits and burdens of their former imperial ties, quickly learned that they could increase the flow of money into their coffers by playing the two Superpowers off against each other.

Even South Africa wasn’t about apartheid as far as the Superpowers were concerned.  Instead it was about a West-leaning white government that found itself facing a black opposition that got funding from the Soviets.  And before you start thinking that the Soviets funded the blacks because of a principled stand vis a vis apartheid, abandon that thought immediately.  The Soviets funded the blacks only because the government, at a political level separate from apartheid, allied itself with the West.

Nowadays, with the face-off being one between Islam and the West, Sudan is exactly the modern South Africa.  It’s not the slaughter that’s the problem — sadly, that’s par for the course in Africa — it’s the nature of the hand wielding the machete that’s the problem.  You see, this time around it’s not a Communist hand, it’s an Islamic hand.  Of course, 30 years ago, America would have done something, not out of any Carter-esque human rights mushiness, but because the Sudan had suddenly become a front in a larger ideological war, not between the Sudanese, but between America and her enemies.  Things are different now, when we just stand on the sidelines wringing our hands.

All of which means that our presence in Africa, which looks like a lot of mushy, emotionally driven money, is in fact a Cold War legacy.  And it turns out that our presence their may still be necessary as we fight proxy battles against yet another Communist entity — China.  You see China is doing a fair bit of meddling in Africa now and, given Africa’s vast natural reserves, it’s not in America’s interests to let that continent drift irrevocably away from the West and land in the Chinese orbit:

Close on the heels of the latest sham election in Zimbabwe, the International Criminal Court announced last week that it is seeking the arrest of the president of Sudan on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. As Africa notches up more failures on the long road out of colonialism, a new pseudo-colonial power–China–is busily engaged in getting exactly what it wants out of the continent. The implications for the kind of political and economic evolution likely to unfold in Africa are significant.

Until about 20 years ago, China’s interest in Africa consisted mainly of encouraging Marxist revolutionary factions. Lately, however, that interest has taken a decidedly economic turn. China is in the market for most of Africa’s products and is selling its own there as well. Once a major oil exporter, China became a net importer of oil in 1993 and is now dependent on imports for half its oil and natural gas. To meet this need, it has diversified its sources, in particular making deals with most of Africa’s oil-producing states.

Just in the past three years, Beijing has signed energy deals with Algeria, Nigeria, Angola, Gabon, and Sudan. Its investment in Sudan’s pipeline and refinery infrastructure, valued at between $3 billion and $5 billion, is mind-boggling in such a poor country, but it is not unusual for the energy industry. China bought a stake in a Nigerian offshore field two years ago for $2.5 billion and promised to invest the same amount in further exploration and development.

China has huge investments in Algeria, with whose government it is also cooperating on the development of nuclear energy, and Angola, which this spring overtook Nigeria as the continent’s largest producer of oil.

Read more about China and Africa here — and keep in mind that, as has always been the case, while ordinary citizens agitate about Africa because it’s pathetic, governments get involved there because it’s important.

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  • Danny Lemieux

    Unfortunately, Al Qaeda is to be found all over Africa (as are our Special Forces that are hunting them). Remember the Kenyan embassy bombings?

    We need the support of African countries if we are to prevail against Al Qaeda and other anti-American terrorist groups. Plus, many African economies are actually starting to improve and we want to be part of that, dontcha think? Thanks to G.W. Bush’s extraordinary increases in U.S. aid to combat malaria and AIDS and to open up U.S. markets to African imports, our general image in Africa is very high at the moment (you will not find this in the MSM, of course).

    That being said, the wrong type of aid, as historically practiced by the Euros, UN, NGOs and “Western” relief agencies has been devastating to Africans:,1518,363663,00.html

  • BrianE

    It’s impossible not to be sympathetic to the lives of most Africans, but I agree that throwing money at the corrupt political systems only solidifies the hold of the oligarchies.

    I think direct aid by Christian relief organizations is probably the most efficient at reaching the average African, but even there it is difficult to resist a sprinkling of bribery to keep the beauracratic machinery greased.

    From our experiences in Liberia, it appears the rebuilding of the infrastructure of this war-ravaged country is being funded by China– a country that is historically allied with the US. The goodwill and future benefit to China is no doubt a cheap investment to them, when the sphere of influence of Africa moves into the Chinese political camp.

    We forget sometimes that the Chinese government is not our ally.

  • Ymarsakar

    I think American Imperialism, if America ever decided that this was a path they would wish to take their children on, would solve Africa’s problem in one generation.

  • Danny Lemieux

    I am not even so sure about those “Christian” relief organization, BrianE.

    Some very Christian friends of mine did some relief work in Southern Sudan on behalf of a Christian relief organization. Turns out, they were expected to live and work for a pittance under very dangerous conditions while their generally unresponsive managers lived an expat life of luxury in Nairobi…living off clueless donors’ contributions, of course.

    My friends’ conclusions were that, in the end, they really weren’t helping the situation and perhaps were even making it worse. So, they left.

    Another friend, a Zimbabwean, remarked to me that one of the best things that the “world” could do for Africa is to just leave it alone to sort out its own issues.

  • Ymarsakar

    Africa qua Africa

    ooo, a philosophical title, eh, Book?

    Another friend, a Zimbabwean, remarked to me that one of the best things that the “world” could do for Africa is to just leave it alone to sort out its own issues.

    The Mongols and Atillas of the world will not leave such a resource trove alone.

  • Ymarsakar

    Unfortunately. If Africa had been more involved in sea trade and cultural exchanges, like Axum was with the Roman Empire, the belief that black people were barbarous and inferior might never have come about. Except in Asia.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Actually, YM, they were involved in sea and cultural exchanges.

  • Ymarsakar

    No, they weren’t. The barbary pirates and Islam’s slave trade in Africa can hardly be called original African sea trade on par with the British or Portugal. But if you look up the Kingdom of Axum, you would see that they had almost as large an influence on sea trade as the British Empire. Until Axum decided to go isolationist and let the world pass them by by retreating to central Africa.

    When you let the world pass you by, as China and Japan periodically did, the world is not exactly going to leave you alone. Especially given Africa’s political instability and civil wars.

  • Ymarsakar

    The Quarysh tribe was pretty big in Arabia. They were in direct competition with Axum, before the birth of Mohammed, due to the fact that Axum, like the US, made shipping in the Indian Ocean so much safer and more profitable than Arabia’s caravan routes.

    This is only one monumental historical event that Africa excluded themselves from. There are many more as time went on.