(Ivory Coast), Jean Victor Lemvo
(Congo Brazzaville), Damien Millet
(France), Luc Mukendi
and Victor Nzuzi
(Mali), Eric Toussaint (
Translated by Maria Gatti
July 20, 2009 -- After the G8 summit in Italy, US President
Barack Obama flew off to Africa with a so-called gift: an envelope of US$20 billion
to distribute over three years, so that “generous” donors in the rich countries
could “help” reduce world hunger. While the promise to eradicate hunger has
been made on a regular basis since 1970, the United Nations Food and
Agriculture Organisation (FAO) published a report last month indicating that
the number of undernourished people has passed the 1 billion point, that is 100
million more than the year before. At the same time, the United Nations World
Food Program (WFP) sounded the alarm bell and announced that it had to cut
rations distributed in Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, North Korea and Kenya (Obama’s
paternal family’s home country), principally due to the reduction in contributions
from the US, its main donor.
Beyond the effect of President Obama’s announcement,
the latest in a long list of good intentions that have done nothing to improve
the current situation, it is worth recalling that the $20 billion aid figure
over three years amounts to less than 2% of the sum the US spent in 2008-2009
to save the bankers and insurers responsible for the crisis.
After extending a hand to the “Muslim friends” in his
Cairo speech (while continuing to destabilise the Middle East region behind the
scenes), after a hand held out to the “Russian friends” (while maintaining his
stance on building the Eastern European anti-missile shield), now Obama is
extending a hand to the “African friends” (while keeping his neo-colonial cap
firmly atop his head).
lets the rich countries off the hook
Obama’s long address in Accra, Ghana, follows up on a
series of meetings with his counterparts abroad. Under the pretext of setting new
bases for US relations with the rest of the world, once again Obama has
excelled in the art of advocating openness and change, while continuing to
implement his forerunners’ disastrous policies.
From the outset, he stated that it was “up to Africans to determine Africa’s
future”. And yet, while everyone can agree with this statement, which makes
perfect sense on the face of it, in reality this is not always put into practice,
and the G8 countries over the past half-century have played a key role in
depriving African peoples of their sovereignty. Obama doesn’t fail to remind us
“I have the blood of Africa within me”,
as if this automatically provided more strength and legitimacy to his message.
In any case, the message was clearly conveyed: the colonialism their ancestors
were victims of should no longer provide excuses for Africans. This is very
similar to the speech France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy pronounced in Dakar a
few months after his election. But Sarkozy’s speech sparked a wave of
well-deserved protest, and so far Obama has miraculously averted such a
response… But now we will do what it takes to end this injustice!
Straight off, Obama let the Western world off the hook
for the current state of the African continent’s development. Declaring, “development depends upon good governance”
and “that is a responsibility that can
only be met by Africans”,
he started out from the false observation that the poverty plaguing Africa is
primarily due to poor governance or the free choices of African leaders. In
short, it is Africans’ fault. Nothing could be farther from the truth!
With affirmations such as “the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean
economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as
President Obama is downplaying the rich countries’ central role in the course
Africa has taken. And in particular the role of the major international
financial institutions, starting from the International Monetary Fund and the
World Bank, which are powerful instruments of the great powers’ domination
organising the subjection of the peoples of the global South. This is done via
structural adjustment policies (end to subsidies for staple goods, drastic cuts
in public spending, privatisation of public companies, market liberalisation,
etc.) that make it impossible to meet basic needs, spread deep poverty at
breakneck speed, increase inequalities and make the worst horrors possible.
compares incomparable situations
To back up his statements, Obama compared Africa to
South Korea. First, he explained that 50 years ago, “when my father travelled to the United States from Kenya to study, at
that time the per capita income and Gross Domestic Product of Kenya was higher
than South Korea's”, before he added: “There
had been some talk about the legacies of colonialism and other policies by
wealthier nations, and without in any way diminishing that history, the point I
made was that the South Korean government, working with the private sector and
civil society, was able to create a set of institutions that provided
transparency and accountability.
Regular and attentive readers of Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt (CADTM)
publications choked on that one!
This is because South Korea’s supposed economic
came about despite the recommendations imposed by the World Bank on most other
developing countries. After the Second World War and up until 1961, the
military dictatorship in power in South Korea benefited from significant donations from the United States,
totalling the sum of $3.1 billion. This is more than all World Bank loans to
the other Third World countries during the same period! Thanks to these
donations, South Korea did not have to go into debt for 17 years (1945-1961).
External borrowing only became significant from the end of the 1970s, once South
Korea’s industrialisation was well under way.
So everything started out in South Korea through an
iron-fisted dictatorship that implemented a statist and highly protectionist
policy. Washington set up this dictatorship in the wake of the Second World
War. The state imposed a radical agrarian reform under which big Japanese
landowners were expropriated without compensation. The peasants took ownership
of small plots of land (equivalent to up to three hectares per family) and the
state expropriated the surplus crops, formerly pocketed by Japanese landowners
when Korea was a colony of Japan. The land reform set stringent restrictions on
the peasantry. The state set prices and production quotas, not allowing for the
free play of market forces.
From 1961 to 1979, the World Bank backed South Korea’s
Park Chung Hee military dictatorship although South Korea refused to follow the
World Bank’s development model. At the time, the state was planning the
country’s economic development with an iron fist. Industrialisation by substitution
for imports and the overexploitation of the working class were the two
ingredients in the country’s economic success. The World Bank did back the Chun
Doo Whan dictatorship (1980-1987) although the bank’s recommendations were not
always followed (particularly in terms of restructuring the automotive sector).
Thus when Obama declared, “the South Korean government, working with the private sector and civil
society, was able to create a set of institutions that provided transparency
he failed to mention that the private sector was clearly guided by the state
and the Korean dictatorship “dialogued” with civil society by guns and cannons.
The history of South Korea from 1945 until the early 1980s was marked by massacres
and brutal repression.
It is also important to refresh Barack Obama’s memory
as he refers to the Zimbabwean example to illustrate Africans’ failure and
comparing it to the South Korean model. The year Zimbabwe achieved independence
(1980) was marked by popular uprisings against the South Korean military
dictatorship. These were crushed in blood; more than 500 civilians were killed
by the military with Washington’s backing.At this time, and since 1945, the South
Korean armed forces were put under a joint US-South Korean command, itself
under the control of the commander-in-chief of United States forces in South
Korea. The massacres perpetrated by the South Korean army in May 1980 were
completed by a massive repression in the following months. According to an
official report dated February 9, 1981, over 57,000 people were arrested during
the “Social Purification Campaign”
underway since the summer of 1980. Almost 39,000 of these people were sent to
military camps for “physical and
psychological re-education”. In February 1981, South Korea’s dictator Chun
Doo Hwan was received at the White House by the new US president, Ronald
Reagan. Is this the example Obama wants to offer to the people of Zimbabwe and
other African countries?
South Korea’s geostrategic position was one of its
major assets until the end of the 1980s, enabling it to avert IMF and World
Bank control. But in the 1990s, the entire geopolitical situation was in
disarray following the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Washington’s attitude
towards allied dictatorships shifted gradually, to the support of civilian
governments. Between 1945 and 1992, South Korea lived under a military regime
with Washington’s blessing. The first civilian opponent elected to the
presidency in an open election was Kim Youngsam, who accepted the Washington
Consensus and implemented a clearly neoliberal agenda (elimination of tariff
barriers, multiple privatisations, liberalisation of capital movements),
plunging South Korea into the 1997-1998 South-East Asian economic crisis. In
the meantime, South Korea was able to achieve an industrialisation the rich
countries refused in Africa’s case. We can thereby understand to what extent
the South Korean model is unconvincing and can’t be reproduced everywhere.
Moreover, South Korea’s relative lack of natural
resources paradoxically favoured its development because the country avoided
transnational corporations’ resource lust. The United States viewed South Korea
as a strategic zone from a military standpoint, facing the USSR bloc, not as a
crucial source of supplies (as were Nigeria, Angola and Congo-Kinshasa). If South
Korea had major reserves of oil or other strategic raw materials, Washington
would not have allowed it the same elbow room to develop a powerful industrial
complex. The United States ruling class is not prepared to deliberately foster
the emergence of powerful competitors with both major natural reserves and
pardons capitalism for its misdeeds
As for the current economic crisis, Obama spoke out
against the irresponsible risk taking of a few, sparking a recession that has
swept the world. Thus, he conveys the impression that this crisis was caused by
the irresponsibility of a handful of individuals whose excesses plunged the
world into recession. This analysis eclipses the responsibility of those who
have imposed financial deregulation for almost 30 years, above all the United
States. It would be more precise to underline the productivist capitalist
development model, painfully imposed by the countries of the global North, as
the source of the many crises underway. These are not merely economic crises,
but also food, migratory, social, environmental and climate crises.
All these crises originate with decisions made by
imperialist governments in the North, and above all the United States
government which controls both the IMF and World Bank, so it can impose conditionalities
favourable to its interests and those of its major firms. Since the early
1960s, when most African countries achieved “independence”, the IMF and the
World Bank have been a kind of Trojan horse to promote the appropriation of
natural resources and defend creditors’ interests. By supporting dictatorships
in many corners of the world (Mobutu in Zaire, Suharto in Indonesia, Pinochet
in Chile and so many others), then by forcing the implementation of harsh
antisocial policies, successive Western governments have never allowed the
guarantee of basic human rights throughout the world. Expressions such as
“right to self-determination”, “democracy”, “economic and political rights” are
not realities in Africa, due to the crushing weight of debt repayments and contrary
to the pleas of the starving.
African emancipation come?
Africa was broken by the devastating slave trade
system in the context of the triangular international trade established by
Europe and its settlers in the Americas from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Then it was held in
trusteeship by European colonialism from the end of the 19th century until independence.
Thereafter, Africa has been held in dependency through the mechanism of the debt
and public development aid.
After African countries achieved independence, they
were handed over to potentates (Mobutu in the Congo, Omar Bongo in Gabon,
Etienne Eyadema in Togo, Amin Dada in Uganda …) most of whom were protected by
the former European colonisers and by Washington. Several important African
leaders who sought autonomous development that would promote their peoples were
assassinated on the orders of Paris, Brussels, London or Washington (Congo’s Patrice
Lumumba in 1961, Togo’s Sylvanus Olympio in 1963, Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara
in 1987…). The African ruling classes and the political regimes they
established have a very clear share in the responsibility for Africa’s litany
Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe is one of these.
Today, the peoples of Africa are directly affected by the effects of the world
crisis whose epicentre is in Washington and Wall Street, revealing that
capitalism is up against an impasse unacceptable for peoples. Barack Obama’s
African origins are a godsend for businesses in his country defending very
specific economic interests in the exploitation of Africa’s resources.
This is a reality that Obama sweeps away with the back
of his hand, as he continues a paternalistic and moralising path in order to
convince Africans not to undertake the struggle for meaningful independence and
real development, finally guaranteeing the full satisfaction of human needs.
 Emilie Tamadaho Atchaca is president of CADD Benin,
Solange Koné is a women’s rights activist in Ivory Coast, Jean Victor Lemvo
-Solidaire- Pointe Noire (Congo Brazzaville), Damien Millet is the CADTM France
spokesperson, Luc Mukendi is the coordinator ofAMSEL /CADTM LUBUMBASHI, Victor Nzuzi is a
farmer, coordinator of GRAPR and NAD Kinshasa, Sophie Perchellet is a researcher
at CADTM Belgium, Aminata Barry Touré is president of CAD-Mali/Coordinator of
the Peoples’ Forum, Eric Toussaint is president of CADTM Belgium, Ibrahim
Yacouba is a trade unionist in Niger, all are members of the international
Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt (CADTM) network, www.cadtm.org
 See the Financial Times (FT)
June 12, 2009. According to FT,
Burham Philbrook, the US Undersecretary of State for Agriculture declared that
Washington could not guarantee funding of WFP at the level of 2008, during
which the United States had brought 2 billion dollars to the WFP budget. Also
according to FT, Philbrook suggested
that WFP had to reduce its aid although he knew perfectly well that the number
of hungry people increased in 2009.
 This continuity is also visible in Obama’s failure to
take action in the putsch in Honduras. While denouncing it, he lets matters
slide. Furthermore, the Pentagon is very close to the putschists. The latter
would not remain in power if the Pentagon gave them the order to withdraw.
From Obama’s statement at the G8 Summit in L’Aquila.
See Eric Toussaint, World Bank : A
Critical Primer, Pluto-Between the Lines-David Philip, London-Toronto-Cape
Town, 2007, chapter 11, “South Korea: the miracle unmasked”. online: http://www.cadtm.org/spip.php?article1847
Eric Toussaint, chapter 11, “South Korea: the miracle unmasked”, p. 117.