Benign Neglect

“Africa’s time has come.” Those are the words of the world’s most famous political prisoner, Nelson Mandela on a recent visit to Washington. As millions of American movie goers invade theaters to visit galaxies far, far away in the final chapter of Star Wars, Madiba [as Mandela is fondly called] tried to awaken the conscience of America’s leaders to the plight of a continent right here on earth, just on the other side of the Atlantic.

Africa, often neglected and marginalized is the only region on planet earth no better off than it was 25 years ago. Millions of Africans live in countries burdened by war, millions of African children do not go to school, and millions of Africans die as a result of disease, hunger or conflict. Africa risks being left even further behind as economic stagnation spreads. Though tragic these statistics are nothing new. The rest of the world [especially the rich western countries] that exploit the continent hasn’t flinched at the consequences of their benign neglect attitude towards bilad_as_sudan.

Mandela, with all the glory that he earned the hard way is telling us that it is Africa’s time without calling for an end to the system of global apartheid separating haves and have-nots, with many of those have-nots discriminated by race and geography, living in the African world.

If Africa is to progress in any meaningful way, a few things has to happen. The unbearable debt burden that these nations owed to the west has to be cancelled. Debt has become the burning tire neck lacing the African continent. There is a reverse transfer of resources from the world’s poorest to wealthy bankers and their surrogates in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The biggest burden of this debt is borne by women and children, as cash-strapped African governments close schools and health centers in service of the ever-spiraling obligations. Imagine the long-term effect of bartering the cancellation of these debts with the institution of verifiable and sustainable democratic institutions. The cost to the west will be minuscule compared to the militaristic adventures they undertaken.

Fair trade is another thing that has to happen. African farmers can’t compete against the heavily subsidized U.S. agro-business industries. If farmers in Europe are complaining about it, how can back breaking, labor intensive farming communities in Africa compete in this environment?

The military industrial complex’s role in the numerous festering conflicts on the continent of Africa cannot be ignored any more. All western military aid and sales programs to Africa need to stop. Making military force a higher priority than development and diplomacy creates an imbalance that encourages irresponsible regimes to use western military hardware to oppress their own people. It doesn’t foster democracy and Africa doesn’t need that kind of assistance.

The exploitation of Africa’s natural resources by western companies for the growth in the portfolio of their shareholders has to be remedied. Ninety percent of all western engagement with Africa is in the extractive industries—oil, mining, timber, and minerals. Countries like Nigeria are perhaps the most egregious. In spite of the rich oil flowing onshore and off, the average Nigerian has the same standard of living as his or her grandparents did in 1960, before any oil was drilled. This rape of Africa is unconscionable. Africa’s resources must benefit its own people. Demands of accountability, transparency, and ethics must be made not only on African governments but also on western companies. Until then, sorry Madiba…it is not going to be Africa’s time.


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