Far from being a seemingly hopeless continent, Africa, with its immense mineral wealth, may well be the next frontier of roaring democratic capitalism. The Clinton administration has been paying increasing attention to Africa but in a way that could cripple its prospects for growth. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has just completed a 7-African nation tour. President Clinton may visit next year. First Lady Hillary Clinton and Chelsea were there last Feb. Then currently before Congress is the administration’s “Africa Growth and Investment Opportunity In Africa: The End of Dependency Act.”

This new Africa initiative seeks “to create a transition path from development assistance to economic self-sufficiency for sub-Saharan African countries.” The Bill will authorize a one time appropriation of $150 million for an equity fund and $500 million for a infrastructure fund beginning in 1998. These funds will be used to mobilize private savings from developed economies for equity investment in Africa; stimulate the growth of securities markets in Africa; improve access to third party equity and management advice for Africa’s small and medium-sized firms. The infrastructure funds are intended to help improve the operations of telecommunications, roads, railways and power plants in Africa. These improvements, it was hoped, would help attract U.S. investors to potentially profitable projects in Africa. At the June 1997 G-7 Summit conference in Denver, President Clinton sought to sell this program to other donor countries.

The White House has also held a series of high-level conferences on Africa. The June 27, 1994 White House gathering sought “to raise the profile of Africa,” “express solidarity with its people,” and proclaimed a new mantra: “true partnership with African leadership.” At this year’s (June 17) conference, President Clinton announced his new policy initiative toward Africa and lauded “a dynamic new Africa making dramatic strides toward democracy and prosperity” (The Washington Post, 18 June 1997, A18). He recently appointed Reverend Jesse Jackson as his Special Envoy on Democracy in Africa and black New York democrat, Rep. Charles Rangel, to lead his presidential trade mission to Africa. Upon return, Rep. Rangel complained that: “Most Americans don’t know and care about Africa and never thought of it as a place to invest.” Unfortunately, caring is not the issue; rather, understanding Africa’s problems so that the little assistance it receives is effective.

The administration’s approach to African issues may be politically-correct but it is seriously flawed. Shying away from criticisms of the policies of black African leaders—lest these criticisms be misinterpreted as “racist”—avoids the primary source of Africa’s woes: the leadership. Further, the overly optimistic portrait the administration paints of Africa—perhaps to avoid offending black American voters—is more apt to breed cynicism.

Fact is, there have been no “dramatic strides toward democracy and prosperity” but rather ungainly “baby steps.” To be sure, the number of African democracies did indeed rise from 4 in 1990 to 15 in 1995 but has now shrank to 13. Electoral acrobatics have been rampant. Last year after General Ibrahim Bare Mainassara seized power in a 27 January 1996 coup in Niger, he decided to contest the presidential elections he was holding for the country on July 6, 1996. When early results showed that he was losing, he sacked and replaced the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) with his own appointees, placed his opponents under guard in their own houses and cut off their phone lines. Two radio stations were stopped from broadcasting and all of the country’s international phone lines were suspended (African News Weekly, 15-21 July 1996, 2). They were lifted after the Supreme Court, with bazookas pointed at its building, declared General Mainassara the winner.

This year alone, democratically-elected governments in Congo-Brazzaville and Sierra Leone have been toppled by military regimes. And after spending tens of millions of U.S. taxpayers’ money on African democratization, the administration now appears to be retreating. Although Madeleine Albright pledged $40 million in new aid for democratic reforms during her trip, some U.S. officials now say Africa needs stability before democracy and that the continent lacks a “democratic culture.”

Progress on African economic reform has been even more glacial. Africa did registered a 5 percent rate of GDP growth in 1996 but subtract a population rate of growth of 3 percent and that leaves a miserly 2 percent growth of GDP per capita. The continent is capable of roaring ahead at even 12 percent clip or more under new leadership and better policies. But the “new leaders” the administration hails are, in most cases, crackpot revolutionaries and crocodile liberators who shot their way to power in Congo (Kinsasha), Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda. In 1994, the World Bank touted The Gambia, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe as “success stories.” Now, the Clinton administration praises Benin, Guinea, Lesotho, Mozambique, and Uganda. The administration’s obsession with small “success stories” blurs its vision for Africa. It is the collapsing economies of the large countries—Algeria, Angola, Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan, Zaire and Zimbabwe—that are dragging the continent down.

The key to Africa’s prosperity is investment but even domestic investors have not found Africa an attractive place. Africa is the most economically unfree continent, according to the Heritage Foundation of Washington, D.C., which compiles an Index of Economic Freedom for the world. “Of the 38 sub-Saharan African countries graded, none received a score of free. Only 10 received a score of mostly free, 22 scored mostly unfree, and six were rated repressed. Of the 19 countries [worldwide] categorized as repressed, the majority are in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Onerous state controls, unstable currencies, runaway government expenditures, confiscatory taxes, political instability, gratuitous chaos, wanton carnage and crumbling infrastructure have conspired to create an environment inimical to development. Of the nearly $100 billion foreign direct investment that flows yearly into the Third World, Africa’s share has been less than 2 percent—or a meagre $2 billion, which is less than what China or Singapore alone attracts. In 1994, there was almost no new investment in Nigeria. In the 18-month period (January 1994 to mid-1995), at least 12 foreign partners pulled out of the country. A 1995 report by the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research, attributed the loss of foreign investment low value of the naira, poor infrastructure, high inflation, low purchasing power of consumers, lack of safety and security of life and property, high tariffs, and political instability. This environment deters even Nigerian investors: The Manufacturing Association of Nigeria says that more than 700 of its 1,500 members have closed their doors since 1987.

As elsewhere in Africa, these “environmental defects” are due to the absence of a few key institutions: an independent central bank, an independent judiciary, an independent media, and neutral and professional army/security forces. Their absence has banished the rule of law, respect for property rights, security of persons and property, social, political, and economic stability as well as freedom from much of Africa. As a result, corruption is rampant, commercial and personal property is arbitrarily seized by drunken soldiers, dissidents frequently “disappear” and senseless civil wars rage for years on end. Says a Kenyan scholar Tom Ochieng based in Charllotte, North Carolina: “Today in Kenya there is no rule of law. If you commit a crime, traffic offense or anything else, you only have to bribe the police. Your lawyer will even tell you to take something to the judge presiding over your case and the case will be delayed and eventually thrown out” (African News Weekly, August 4, 1995, 6).

The administration’s approach to Africa’s ills is not aimed at rectifying these institutional defects but instead offering band-aids drenched in salacious symbolism and suffocating compassion while leaving the underlying causes untreated. This flawed approach is the product of the administration’s almost exclusive reliance on black American civil rights leaders in its formulation of U.S.-Africa initiatives, and an impaired understanding of the complexities of Africa’s crises.

The Role of Black Americans

Black American civil rights leaders did play an instrumental role in the campaign against apartheid in South Africa but elsewhere in Africa, the struggle is not against white racists but brutal black tyrants and military thugs. Framing African issues in a the black/white racialist paradigm is patently inappropriate. In this “second liberation of Africa,” black American civil rights leaders are not only late-comers but also often on the wrong side because of their inability to distinguish between “African people” and “African leaders.” The leadership has been the problem, not the people. But at conferences and summits in Africa, black American delegates laud and provide cover for some of Africa’s most ruthless tyrants. The administration repeats this error of amalgamation by its frequent use of the generic term “Africans”—as in “helping Africans.” Which Africans? Indeed, when President Clinton sent Rev. Jackson as a Special Envoy to help defuse Nigeria’s political crisis in 1994, pro-democracy activists refused to meet with him.

Black American leaders did finally make a concerted effort against Nigeria’s military junta after the 15 March 1995 arrest of retired General Olusegun Obasanjo, a former Nigerian head of state, on suspicion of complicity in an alleged coup plot. The campaign was led by Randall Robinson, the executive director of TransAfrica, the activist group that spearheaded the campaign against apartheid in South Africa and against Haiti’s military thugs. At a March 1995 press conference, Robinson denounced Nigeria’s military regime and urged an imposition of worldwide sanctions. “It is not easy to publicly criticize black leadership. It is uncomfortable and disquieting. But we are left with no choice,” Robinson lamented (The Washington Post, 14 March 1995, A13). This was the first time prominent black Americans had mounted a highly visible public campaign against a black African government. Reverend Joseph Lowery, the former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference added: “I think it would be inconsistent for us to express concern about repression and tyranny by the white dictators in South Africa and ignore the same thing in black Africa. Either way, black Africans suffer,” (The Washington Post, 14 March 1995, A13).

Black Africans roared, “Amen!” But the campaign quickly sputtered and became dogged by division and acrimony. Prominent black Americans began serving as paid lobbyists for Nigeria’s military junta. On 7 February 1996, Nation of Islam leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan, during his World Friendship Tour which took him to Nigeria, Sudan, and Iran and Iraq, issued an unabashed blanket endorsement of Nigeria’s military regime. “I think the Abacha regime should be given a chance to move this country [Nigeria] toward democracy and if the words of General Abacha are true, he will step down in 3 years and turn it over to a civilian rule . . . Military regimes are not necessarily bad,” he said in Lagos (African News Weekly, 19-25 February 1996, 24).

Senator Carol Moseley-Braun—the only black U.S. Senator—followed with an unannounced trip to Nigeria from 9-12 August 1996 that outraged Africans and many human rights groups. She defended her trip as “just doing my job as I see it” (The Washington Times, 21 August 1996, A6). When in Nigeria, she visited Port Harcourt and chatted with military governor Colonel Dauda Musa Komo, who supervised the hangings of Saro-Wiwa and other activists. “Government-owned Radio Rivers State later reported that she praised Komo for bringing peace to the region” (Newsweek, 26 August 1996, 40). She did not meet with pro-democracy leaders in Lagos. Adotei Akwei, government program officer for Africa at Amnesty International, slammed the trip: “This was just the latest kind of blatant act of disregard of the Nigerian government’s human rights violations, which she claims are not being backed up.” Even Moseley-Braun’s chief of staff, Edith Wilson, resigned in protest, claiming she was not informed about the Nigerian trip. Last month, Washington’s black mayor, Marion Barry, paid a visit to Nigeria to attend the World Conference of Mayors, despite repeated urgings not to go. Black American civil rights leaders are yet to mount a spirited campaign against the enslavement of blacks by Arabs in Mauritania and Sudan in this day and age.

Shallow Understanding of Africa

Like other Western governments, the Clinton administration blithely looks at Africa through a rose-colored prism, ignoring certain fundamental distinctions. First, there are two Africas that are constantly clashing. These two Africas do not operate by the same principles or logic. The first is traditional or indigenous Africa that is struggling to survive. It is the home of the real people of Africa—the peasant majority, who produce Africa’s real wealth: agricultural produce, cash crops (cocoa, coffee, tea, etc.), timber, minerals, sculpture, and other artifacts. These African natives have always had the economic freedom to go about their daily economic activities on their own volition. They do not queue before their rulers’ palaces or huts for permission to engage in trade, fishing, or agriculture. They produce surpluses that are sold on free village markets, where prices are determined by bargaining, not dictated by their tribal governments. Their traditional societies are generally peaceful and stable. They live not only in harmony with others but also with their natural environment, including wildlife.