Sunday, August 31, 2008

Seven Questions: an interview with the author of Jewels in the Jungle about Africa, Europe and the U.S.A.

In July my dear friend Ana, an economist who lives and works in London, invited me to write a guest post for her blog Koluki. Since Ana and I communicate regularly about a wide range of news and issues it was a pleasure for me to accept her invitation. Some of my regular readers may remember Ana from a previous post at Jewels about the 2007 EU-Africa Summit held in Lisbon.

We agreed on a personal interview based upon the popular 7 Questions format used so successfully in interviews with leading thinkers of the day. Since several of my answers are a bit longwinded (lengthy) I shall waste no more of your time with a long introduction. Part 2 and 3 of this interview will follow over the next weeks and will be posted at Koluki as well as here at Jewels in the Jungle.

Part 1________ Questions Nr. 1,2, & 3 (published Sep 1, 2008)
Part 2________ Questions Nr. 4 & 5 (published Sep 6, 2008)
Part 3________ Questions Nr. 6 & 7 (coming soon)



1. How and why did you get started blogging about Africa and why the title 'Jewels in the Jungle'?

I have had a deep interest in the continent and people of Africa for much of my adult life since my own family heritage is so closely linked to the history of Africans in the New World (the Americas) starting around the beginning of the 18th Century. ‘
Jewels in the Jungle’ was launched back in May of 2004 when the blogosphere was still relatively small (approximately 7 million blogs vs. the 100 million+ blogs worldwide today).

After watching the rapid development and growth of online publishing tools and blog authors from a technology point of view since 2001-2002, I felt that using a weblog to share information and news online about Africa with people around the globe was an idea worth pursuing. When I started ‘Jewels’ I didn’t have the slightest idea that it would gain popularity and a global readership of more than 90,000 visitors.

Re: the blog title ‘Jewels in the Jungle’

Sort of catchy, ain't it? Love it myself___ I need to get the name trademarked or something. The title gets its name from a phrase that I used to describe a project organized by a photographer friend in Germany. My friend, Susanne Behnke, decided one autumn day in 2002 that she was going to do something to “help out the poor, helpless orphan children of Uganda”. When she broke the news to me about her project idea for Ugandan children I was filled with dread that this was going to turn out to be a nightmare. Susanne, a professional photographer and high school teacher, is a real go-getter with a big heart for young people. Susanne had never traveled to the African continent but she has visited several countries in Europe and North America. Somehow she was able to pull it off despite the many adventures encountered along the way both in Uganda and here in Germany.

Working together with her friends in Uganda and organizations and companies in Germany Susanne managed to plan, organize, and launch a project to build new schoolrooms for children of the Iganga District (near Lake Victoria and Jinja). The project team also awarded thirty scholarships to young schoolchildren to help them pay their school fees for one year. Jewelry design students from one of Germany’s best known art & design academies (the Pforzheim School of Design) donated their time and work in support of the project. Auctions for the sale of handmade designer jewelry created specifically for this project were held at three locations in Germany. Money collected from these auctions plus generous private donations was used to begin construction on new school classrooms in Iganga District, Uganda. Hence the story of the origin of my blog title ‘Jewels in the Jungle’.

Note: I’ve uploaded
photos from the project to my Flickr.com portfolio. Sotheby’s Amsterdam used a similar concept in 2007 for the ‘Jewels for the Jungle’ auction to help raise money for the World Wildlife Fund.


2. To what extent do you think that blogs, social networks, and other online publishing and collaboration tools can contribute to Africa's development?

I feel that
blog authors coming from the global pool of private citizens, citizen journalists, news and media professionals, educators and scholars, students and so forth have already contributed a great deal to Africa’s development, especially over the last 4 to 5 years. I haven’t spent much time investigating social networks and online forums so I cannot speak about their impact on Africa’s development.

There is more information about Africa, much of it written and produced by Africans, available to the global public today than at anytime in world history. The simple, easy-to-use technologies behind online publishing tools i.e.
Blogger, Wordpress, and Typepad combined with the power of blog search engines and blog aggregators has helped to make it possible for millions of people to participate in the World Live Web, the live or near real-time global online communications and collaboration around a variety of news events and issues. Blogs in combination with the array of online communication and collaboration tools and platforms that make up what some refer to as Web 2.0 technologies has helped the world to understand that “Africa is in the House!” Africa and Africans are an integral part of the global community and the young people of Africa today refuse to be ignored and left behind.

Users of these new web-based applications are transforming how local, national, and international news is gathered, analyzed, and delivered. Leading international and national news media companies have started using blogs and reader-generated content on their websites. It is standard practice for the best online news sites to offer reader feedback to editorials and feature articles in the form of comment tools. What is also interesting to watch is the growing impact that blog authors and citizen journalists (and their readers) are having on
national politics and elections around the world. This is happening from the U.S.A. to Russia, from Egypt to Ecuador, South Africa to South Korea___ blog authors and their readers are making a significant contribution to news coverage worldwide as well as having an impact on politics and social issues. Jay Rosen, associate professor of journalism at New York University and author of PressThink, goes into more detail about this subject in his August 2007 editorial for the LA Times ‘The Journalism that Bloggers Actually Do’ .

Africa’s bloggers and people around the world who write and report on Africa via blogs and citizen-generated news sites are having an effect on how heads of state, political figures, business leaders, and public officials operate. It is especially difficult these days for many of Africa’s longstanding despots and dictators and thieves of the public wealth (corrupt officials) because they can no longer hide their dirty deeds and deplorable actions from an enquiring world. Some regimes continue to intimidate and persecute journalists, editors, and publishers by keeping a tight stranglehold on a free press and free speech___ but these leaders can no longer easily control the growing sources of reliable information or the delivery channels for news. News today can be delivered from anywhere___ the Internet, mobile phones, miniature storage devices, video cameras, you name it.

This is true not only for Africa but for leaders in regions and countries around the globe. Case in point: Look east, look east to China and the difficulties that the government in Beijing is having with outraged journalists over press freedoms and Internet access. Bloggers were the ones to break the story about '
The Great Firewall of China' first, long before the world’s press and media professionals caught on.

Bloggers are everywhere and just about anyone with access to a computer and a reliable Internet connection, an ability to communicate well through the written word or voice (audio) or imagery (photos, video, graphics), combined with credibility and some authority on a given subject can become a blogger with a worldwide audience.

From the election turmoil in Nigeria and Kenya to the exposure of the despotic rule of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and murderous rule of Omar al-Bashir in Sudan to the headquarters of the African Union and the United Nations, bloggers are having an impact on the way we live and the choices of information that we consume daily.

3. As an American living abroad for many years (Europe), what has been your experience with Africans in the Diaspora?

One of the most vivid images of Europe that will remain in my mind forever will be the day in 1986 that I saw three young African men sitting on a dock in a small harbor town in northern Germany looking out across the North Sea. These were not the first black Africans that I had encountered in Europe or Germany but for me they defined the plight of so many African immigrants to Europe that I have met in the closing decade of the 20th Century and right up to this very day.

At the time I was working for an aerospace engineering firm that had defense contracts with the German government to assist the German Luftwaffe and Marine. My assignment was to support German scientists, naval officers and technical staff on a naval air station at the ass-end of the world. Here in the middle of nowhere, at the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union and the
Eastern Bloc countries whose armies were amassed on the East German border just a stone’s throw away were these African ‘asylum seekers’. I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

To make a long story short, I soon befriended these young men and shared in many great conversations about Africa and America and Europe until my departure from the area about 4 years later. I still have many fond memories of those days and I miss them dearly, I really do. Unfortunately I no longer have contact to any of those young Africans from that time but I have learned that one of them returned to Ghana and is today a successful Internet radio entrepreneur. I would like to think that our heated discussions and debates about all kinds of subjects combined with my encouragement to maintain a level of self-respect and demand respect from others, to always work hard to improve oneself through education and learning inside and outside of a classroom, that these shared experiences had a positive effect on their lives and their futures.

Of course not all Africans that I have met in Europe have been asylum seekers or economic refugees. Many of my African friends and acquaintances came to West or East Germany (GDR) on academic scholarships back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Over the years I have had the privilege to know a number of young African students, professionals, and just ordinary people from every corner of the African continent who live and work in Germany. These Africans are integrated into European society to the extent that their communities and co-workers will accept them. Based upon my own observations and personal experiences the better educated and skilled African Diaspora in Germany is building a solid foundation for themselves and their families. They are ‘paving the way’ and breaking the ice of racial discrimination, prejudice, and fear to open up new career opportunities for the educated and skilled African people who will follow.

It is evident that immigrants and economic refugees who are arriving in Europe today from Africa and around the globe without a good education and modern job skills are upsetting the apple cart, causing resentment and fear within traditional European society and even within some elite African-European circles. A report released by the German Economics Ministry in August 2007 showed that Germany was suffering from an acute skilled labor shortage costing the economy more than €20 billion Euro per year. A 2008 report by the Washington DC-based Center for Transatlantic Relations (
John Hopkins University SAIS) showed that the “vast majority of foreign migrants settling in the EU are poorly qualified ( 85%)…” where skilled foreign workers make up about 55% of the U.S. foreign labor market compared to only 5% in Europe. When it comes to the education and skills needed to fill highly-skilled positions in the medical, technology, and services professions, foreign workers make up less than 1% of the entire labor market across the 27-member European Union. This acute skilled labor shortage is cause for some EU parliamentarians to consider instituting an EU Blue Card program to fill the growing labor gaps in EU member countries.

This acute skilled labor shortage combined with fears over terrorism from abroad, increased illegal immigration and other woes does not bode well for the 10’s of thousands of unskilled immigrants from African countries who have been fleeing poverty on the continent for a better life in Europe. It will be interesting to see what impact these challenges will have on a growing African Diaspora in Europe over the next decade or two.

The path to better job opportunities and acceptance and integration of Africans into European society will be a long and hard fought road, not unlike the problems faced by African-Americans and many other ethnic groups in the United States, Canada, and throughout the Americas over the past few hundred years. It has already taken nearly two millennia for Africans from Saharan and sub-Saharan countries to be accepted as an integral part of European history, culture and society. Let us hope that it doesn’t take much longer because time is running out.


Link to Seven Questions Interview: Q&A Nr. 4 (next page)


References and related articles:

Germany – Die Zeit Online
Europa: Zuwanderer gesucht! by Joachim Fritz-Vannahme, 07/02/08

Germany – DW World (Deutsche Welle Online)
Skills Shortage Could Dent German Economy, Study Warns – 08/20/07

Germany – Spiegel Online International (English edition)
The World from Berlin: Fortress Europe is Taking Shape – 06/19/08
Africa’s Plight: How Europe Lost Africa by Dominic Johnson – 02/28/08
(article re-published from
International Politik – Global Edition)
The Onslaught of the Poor: The New Mass Migration by Klaus Brinkbäumer Р01/24/07
An African Odyssey: John Ampan’s Four Year Journey from Ghana to Germany by Klaus Brinkb√§umer – 01/25/07

BBC News (UK)
Malta fears 71 migrants drowned, 08/27/08
Migrant Crisis: Destination Europe: maps, graphics and articles exploring migration from Africa to Europe, 07/02/07

Mother’s battle against Senegal migration by Tidiane Sy, 11/06/06

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Seven Questions Interview: Q&A Nr. 4

4. What do you think about America's current relationship with Africa in general terms?

I think in general terms the American people have a good relationship with the people of Africa. Of course there is room for improvement on both sides. We are living in a period of history where we can learn a great deal more about each other thanks to rapid advances in communication and information technology and the ease of travel between countries. These advances help people to interact with one another in ways that were not possible before. I think that these new opportunities in communication and travel will have an even bigger impact on relations between the people of African countries and the people of America in the next few decades.

A perfect example of this happened just last week. The mother of my three sons from Togo arrived in Germany for a visit. These three young men are not my blood relatives but are three young people who I have built a close relationship with over the past 8-10 years. This was Mama’s first visit to Europe or anywhere else outside of her small West African country and after introductions the conversation between us started flowing like a river. We needed the help of a translator, a duty that was proudly carried out by her youngest son Sassou, because Mama speaks French and the Gbe languages of her homeland (Ewe and Mina). I speak only English and German so it was difficult to communicate with one another directly.

I treated their mother with the care and respect that an older person deserves as I explained who I was and my relationship with her sons. I described for her the connection of my own family to West Africa via the transatlantic slave trade and how African Americans are bound through our hearts and minds to her own people’s history. This brief meeting between an elderly African woman and an aging African American man is an experience that we both shall hold dear for the rest of our lives. It was absolutely precious. This is what I mean when I say that the relationship between Africans and Americans is generally good because I believe that millions of people in America and Africa are anxious to meet and learn more about each other.

What I sometimes find disturbing is the huge amount of misinformation about U.S.-Africa relations intended to create suspicion, prejudice, and fear. I often get the impression that many Africans believe the U.S.A. is only interested in exploiting Africa for minerals and oil without any real consideration for the welfare of African people. A careful analysis of the situation of course tells a different story than the ideas that so many people are trying to sell through their propaganda and lies.

Americans have a variety of impressions and attitudes toward Africa but chief among them is a great deal of human compassion and concern. Americans from all walks of life have been and continue to be actively engaged in helping Africans workout and solve problems. This is often overlooked in discussions and debates about the relationship between Africa and America. Many Africans I have come to know over the years have respect and admiration toward the people of the United States of America. Despite our differences on a number of issues my African acquaintances and friends are eager to improve their country’s relationship with the U.S.A.


Increased contacts and knowledge exchanges between the people of Africa and the U.S.A. will help improve cooperation and understanding. These things take time but thanks to changing attitudes and a number of other factors the pace of improved relations between Africans and Americans will hopefully quicken in the 21st Century.


Link to Seven Questions Q&A Nr. 5-1 (next page)
Link to Seven Questions Q&A Nrs. 1, 2, 3


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Friday, August 29, 2008

Seven Questions Interview: Q&A Nr. 5-1

5. More specifically, in which areas do you think America has or might have a significant contribution to Africa's development?

Hmmmmm___ that’s a tough question which is not easy to answer but I will give it my best shot. In answering your question I have had to go back and review quite a bit of material because “a significant contribution to Africa’s development” can be interpreted to mean many things. Development assistance to a country (or in this case to 53 countries) is not just financial aid and emergency humanitarian relief.

Effective development strategies involve the wise use of foreign policy and diplomacy from a government supported by the work of private organizations and foundations and the public. US strategic foreign policy objectives for Africa are very much a work-in-progress. This work involves complicated negotiations and treaties between the U.S.A. and African governments in coordination with the African Union and other regional bodies on the continent.

Despite having read many articles and reports about U.S. foreign policy and aid for Africa I remain doubtful about the impact of our foreign aid. It is difficult for the average person and taxpayer to fully comprehend the many arguments and debates about foreign aid to Africa and the rest of the developing world. It would seem that one needs a degree in economics, international development, or political science.

From what I understand the ways in which “donor nations” have delivered foreign aid to Africa is often in contradiction with the advice of the world’s leading economists and development experts, not to mention falling short of the needs of the people that this assistance is supposed to help. So please understand that my views expressed below are from a confused average citizen who like millions of other Americans is wondering “Is U.S. foreign aid and assistance to developing countries in Africa really working? And if not, how do we fix it?”

Let’s start with the first part of your question (the past) by reviewing the history and background of U.S.-Africa foreign policy and U.S. official development assistance. I realize that you (the interviewer Ana) have an excellent education in economics and history and do not need a refresher on U.S.-Africa relations. But for the sake of those readers who may not be so well versed on background of this relationship I would like to start at the beginning before talking about the present and the future.

U.S.-African relations, a brief historical overview

The history of U.S.-Africa relations from a foreign policy point-of-view is not very well known to most people outside of diplomatic and academic communities. It wasn’t until the end of World War II that the U.S. Government had formal diplomatic relations with an African country; the exceptions being Liberia, Ethiopia, and the Union of South Africa. President Abraham Lincoln extended official recognition to Liberia in 1862, 15 years after the 1847 Liberian Declaration of Independence was signed and adopted. It could be argued that the founding of the West African country of Liberia (1821-1847) was America’s first (and only) colonization experiment in Africa, although the colony of Liberia was founded by a diverse group of private individuals and not supported directly by the U.S. Federal Government. An early look at U.S. Government relations with Ethiopia is provided in this article about the 1st diplomatic mission from Abbysinia to the U.S. in 1919.

The involvement of the U.S. Government in the support of the transatlantic slave trade between Africa, Europe, and the Americas is a subject best left for another time. However, black African slavery in the early American colonies (1620-1776) and during the early years of the newly independent United States of America (1783-1865) set the mold for the predominate attitude of white Americans toward Africa and Africans. During this same period in history European attitudes and behavior toward their African neighbors had a significant impact on American intellectual thought and writing. After all, fear (angst) and intolerance of the other was a major export from Europe to the Americas beginning in the 16th century. These negative attitudes toward “strangers and savages” proved to be devastating for the populations of indigenous people (Native Americans) and the slaves brought in from Africa. It has taken centuries to move beyond racial prejudice, hatred and fear in the United States of America but I would venture that much progress has been made in the latter half of the 20th century. There is still much work to be done.

Negative and unfair images of Africa and black people today still persist in the European and American mentality; reinforced by the portrayal of black people in the media and cinema and television industries. It’s one of the most repeated complaints by Africans in their view of Africa’s relationship with the West. Dave Khune explains it clearly in the introduction to his book “African Settings in Contemporary American Novels (1999):


Excerpt from the chapter - Africa: What place is this?

The tendency of British and American fiction to portray Africans as savage primitives is a tradition that is several centuries old; however, Europeans did not always presume that Africans were primitive beings. The Greeks and the Romans appear to have held mixed feelings toward Africa and Africans…

Joseph E. Harris reports that a late fourteenth-century European atlas includes a picture of Mansa Musa, the enormously wealthy king of Mali who traveled through Egypt on his to way to Mecca in 1324. Clearly, educated Europeans living in the Middle Ages knew that Africa was home to highly developed cultures.

Even as late as the eighteenth century, it was still possible for Europeans to describe Africans in positive terms. Mary Louise Pratt notes that one of the early explorers of South Africa, Peter Kolbe, found the Hottentots to be cultural beings possessing religion, industry, government, and laws. By the end of the eighteenth century, however, “as modern racist categories emerged,” the Hottentots ceased to be described as cultured people “capable of such things as government, professions, opinions or genius”.

Referring to Conrad’s portrayal of Africans as savages, Chinua Achebe theorizes that for Westerners, Africa is a “metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity,” a place where Americans and Europeans enter at their own peril. Novels such as Frank Yerby’s The Dahomean, Alex Haley’s Roots, and Barbara Chase-Riboud’s Echo of Lions have done much to improve the image of Africans in American literature, but literary and popular conceptions about African peoples have been slow to change. Appiah [Kwame Anthony Appiah] maintains that it may be hard for Africans as well as Westerners “to recover from the overwhelmingly negative conception of Africans that inhabited the mainstream of European and American intellectual life by the first years of Europe’s African empires”.

End excerpt___ Note: links to external online resources added by post author

During the late 19th and 20th century period of European colonization of Africa the U.S. Government deferred to its European allies and trading partners when it came to business dealings and government affairs on the African continent. The Berlin Conference of 1884-85 set out the agreements for dividing up African kingdoms, territories, and regions between the imperial powers of Great Britain, France, and Germany; King Leopold II of Belgium, The Netherlands and Portugal were also in on the feast while Italy and Spain pulled their chairs up to the table a bit later.

And where were the Americans during all of this slicing up of Africa? Although representatives of the United States were in attendance at the Berlin Conference there were no juicy slices of roast African beef handed out to the Americans. During the latter part of the 1800’s following the bloody American Civil War U.S. foreign policy was guided by non-interventionism and the Monroe Doctrine of 1823.

So in fact it was the European imperial powers of the day who were calling all the shots in Africa and it remained that way for nearly a century. Taking into account the Portuguese Colonial Empire and Dutch and Boer colonies in South Africa, European control of small parts of Africa (roughly 10% total) started hundreds of years earlier.

Therefore I have been able to find precious little information online about U.S.-Africa foreign policy from the years 1783-1945, but a good place to start searching for official documents is at the Avalon Project website (Yale University Law School) and at the University of Michigan Library Document Center (United States Foreign Policy Since 1945 and Political Sciences Resources – International Relations). The U.S. Department of State offers the Bureau of Public Affairs and the Office of the Historian websites where you can find information on the subject as well.
It is not until after 1945 that things begin to get real interesting with U.S. diplomatic history in regards to relations with African governments, so I shall proceed on to the birth of the Bureau of African Affairs (1958) and the launch of USAID (1961).


Link to Seven Questions Interview: Q&A Nr. 5-2 (next page)
Link to Seven Questions Interview: Q&A Nrs. 1, 2, 3, 4


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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Seven Questions Interview: Q&A Nr. 5-2

U.S.-Africa relations after the end of WWII

A good overview of the history of United States foreign policy toward Africa from 1945 onward is provided by Dane F. Smith, President of the National Peace Corps Association, in a lecture he presented to students at the University of California – Santa Barbara in June 2008. The 58-minute video, The Making of US Foreign Policy toward Africa, is available at YouTube.com.

The U.S. State Department-sponsored website America.gov published a feature article in June 2007 titled “50 Years of U.S.-Africa Relations” written by Gregory Garland (Chief of Press and Public Affairs, Bureau of African Affairs). Following are excerpts from that article:


50 Years of U.S. Africa Relations by Gregory Garland, 06/25/08
President Richard Nixon and U.N. Under-Secretary Ralph Bunche Saw the Future of U.S.-Africa Relations

The Eisenhower administration’s creation of the Bureau of African Affairs half a century ago signaled a bold step away from what had been a Eurocentric, quasi-colonial policy view of Africa.

Far from being a decision made in a bureaucratic vacuum, the birth of the State Department’s Africa Bureau resulted from the interplay of three of the great forces of the mid-20th century: the civil rights movement, the Cold War and decolonization.

Ralph Johnson Bunche of the State Department and Richard Nixon, who served two terms as Eisenhower's vice president before becoming president, exemplified these forces and, in a very important sense, are the intellectual godfathers of the Africa Bureau. These towering and very different men of the mid-20th century embodied the many, often contradictory threads of U.S. foreign policy toward Africa. Their paths rarely crossed, but the power of the ideas and interests they personified to a large extent determined and help explain the course of America’s relationship with the continent for decades to come.

Interestingly, both men hailed from early 20th-century Southern California, a kind of post-frontier open society far from the racial castes of the segregated South and the class tensions of the industrial North. Both rose from humble backgrounds with the aid of academic scholarships to college.

A PROFESSIONAL AFRICANIST

By the 1940s, Ralph Bunche had established himself as a pre-eminent political scientist, a Harvard doctorate who built an African studies program at Howard University in Washington. He grasped acutely the intimate connection between institutionalized racism in the United States and colonialism in Africa. “As African-Americans,” he wrote, “we are not permitted to share in the full fruit of democracy, but we are given some of the peelings from the fruit.”
This professional Africanist [a specialist in African Studies] had a far broader outlook, however. In 1941, he joined Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal’s team as it conducted a Carnegie Endowment-funded study of American race relations. Bunche wrote much of the groundbreaking work that study would produce, An American Dilemma (1944), which provided the blueprint for the next two decades of the civil rights struggle. He also understood the full implications of the Atlantic Charter, the 1941 U.S. and British document that proclaimed the freedom of all peoples as a central objective of the allied war cause.

After Pearl Harbor, Bunche briefly worked for the Office of Strategic Services -- precursor to the CIA -- as an Africa specialist. He then joined State’s Bureau of Near Eastern, South Asian and African Affairs as the resident Africanist, before moving to the newly established United Nations in 1945. There he focused on decolonization when he wasn’t inventing international peacekeeping or serving as the U.N.’s premier troubleshooter, winning the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for mediating the 1948 Israeli-Arab cease-fire.

In 1949, President Truman offered Bunche a job as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern, South Asian and African affairs, but Bunche turned it down. After having taught at Howard University and served in the U.S. government in World War II, he refused to ever again live in a Washington ruled by Jim Crow, or to work in a department where Africa was, at best, a professional afterthought. As he explained at the time, “It is well known that there is Jim Crow in Washington. It is equally well known that no Negro finds Jim Crow congenial. I am a Negro.” (Jim Crow refers to Jim Crow laws enacted in the United States between 1876 and 1965 that established segregation in public facilities based on race with supposedly "separate but equal" treatment for African-Americans.)

He spent the rest of his career and life at the United Nations, where he deserves considerable credit for the organization’s leadership in pushing ahead with an early timetable for decolonization in Africa. As the organization’s ranking American, he provided crucial behind-the-scenes encouragement to Washington to pressure Europeans to accelerate the independence of their African colonies. And it is here that Bunche’s career intersected with that of Nixon….

Africa did not rank high on the White House’s list of favored parts of the world in the 1950s. As for the State Department, it treated Africa functionally as an adjunct of Europe -- which, politically, it was. The Bureau of Near Eastern, South Asian and African Affairs encompassed not only the African continent but the whole colonial world. Until Ghana gained its independence in 1957, there were only three sovereign countries in sub-Saharan Africa: Liberia, Ethiopia and South Africa.

The rest of the continent consisted of colonies possessed by our Western European allies. There were U.S. consulates scattered around what would eventually become national capitals but, as such, they reported to and took instructions from U.S. embassies in London, Paris, Brussels and Lisbon. These colonial powers were the heart of NATO, and it was the security and reconstruction of Western Europe that mattered most to them and to Washington. No ambassador to a NATO member-state was going to advocate placing support for African decolonization ahead of completing reconstruction and containing communism.

Ever the realist, Nixon saw the stakes differently, particularly after a 1957 trip to Africa awoke his strategic imagination. There he witnessed firsthand the dynamic changes under way and recognized Africa’s potential: support for decolonization meant cultivating potential allies against communism, or at least deterring communist expansion.

It was during that trip that he and Bunche literally crossed paths for the first time. Nixon was representing the United States, and Bunche the United Nations, at the ceremonies marking the independence of Ghana, the first British colony in sub-Saharan Africa to win full independence. However, there is no record of any conversation between the two high-ranking Americans. A charismatic third American, Martin Luther King Jr., attracted the lion’s share of attention from both the media and Ghanaians themselves.

Nixon’s trip report recommended a new and assertive Africa policy of universal presence, economic development assistance, support for education, vibrant and visible cultural and information programs and the creation of a Bureau of African Affairs headed by an assistant secretary. His approach offered a coherent vision of partnership with the region, a vision that today has become the hallmark of U.S.-Africa policy…

ENGAGING WITH AFRICA, FACING RACISM AT HOME

In the 1950s, Eisenhower and Nixon also faced the changing landscape of racism back home. They saw clearly that segregationist policies were undermining America’s credibility as the world leader for freedom and democracy. Those policies stood in stark opposition to the principles of the Atlantic Charter and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the seminal human rights document of the post-World War II era.

Africans perceived this contradiction more acutely than anyone. As the rhetoric of the Cold War heated up, the Soviet Union took full advantage of segregationist laws to win African hearts and minds. Africans didn’t have to be reminded that white Europeans had built up their empires on the backs of black men, leveling or co-opting their pre-European institutions in the interest of imperial stability and profit while keeping them subordinate within the colonial system. Soviet propaganda had only to add that white Americans had built their own prosperity on the back of black descendants of Africans, and kept them subservient under Jim Crow laws. Marxism offered the easy answer of an ideology that categorized racism as capitalistic, promising that the dictatorship of the proletariat would eliminate all such prejudices.

End excerpt___ Note: links to external online resources added by post author

We can see from this viewpoint written by a U.S. Department of State press and public affairs officer that the U.S. Government made some major changes to their relationship with emerging African nations from the 1950’s through the 1970’s. With the creation of the Bureau of African Affairs and the US Agency for International Development, a significant shift in U.S. strategic policy occurred not only toward Africa but for the whole of the developing world.

In the fall of 1961 the U.S. Congress passed the Foreign Assistance Act which “reorganized the U.S. foreign assistance programs including separating military and non-military aid. The Act mandated the creation of an agency to administer economic assistance programs, and on November 3, 1961, President John F. Kennedy established the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

USAID became the first U.S. foreign assistance organization whose primary emphasis was on long-range economic and social development assistance efforts. Freed from political and military functions that plagued its predecessor organizations, USAID was able to offer direct support to the developing nations of the world. “

(Source: History of USAID)

The U.S. Agency for International Development website provides a good overview of how U.S. foreign assistance policy evolved after the success of the Marshall Plan to help Europe rebuild after the near total devastation of WWII. After the Marshall Plan ended in June 1951 the U.S. Government went through a 10-year period of planning, analyzing, and debating different ideas and policies until they came up with a new strategy for long-term foreign assistance on a country-by-country basis. The Office of the Historian at the U.S. Department of State provides yet another view of America’s emerging relations with newly independent African countries during the period 1945-1960 before President John F. Kennedy took office. Here is an excerpt from their work on the subject:

U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Public Affairs – Office of the Historian
Foreign Relations of the United States series (updated to January 20, 2001)
Timeline of U.S. Diplomatic History
Decolonization of Asia and Africa, 1945-1960

Decolonization of Asia and Africa, 1945-1960 (U.S. Department of State)

Between 1945 and 1960, three dozen new states in Asia and Africa achieved autonomy or outright independence from their European colonial rulers. There was no one process of decolonization. In some areas, it was peaceful, and orderly. In many others, independence was achieved only after a protracted revolution. A few newly independent countries acquired stable governments almost immediately; others were ruled by dictators or military juntas for decades, or endured long civil wars. Some European governments welcomed a new relationship with their former colonies; others contested decolonization militarily. The process of decolonization coincided with the new Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, and with the early development of the new United Nations. Decolonization was often affected by superpower competition, and had a definite impact on the evolution of that competition. It also significantly changed the pattern of international relations in a more general sense. The creation of so many new countries, some of which occupied strategic locations, others of which possessed significant natural resources, and most of which were desperately poor, altered the composition of the United Nations and political complexity of every region of the globe…

While the United States generally supported the concept of national self-determination, it also had strong ties to its European allies, who had imperial claims on their former colonies. The Cold War only served to complicate the U.S. position, as U.S. support for decolonization was offset by American concern over communist expansion and Soviet strategic ambitions in Europe. Several of the NATO allies asserted that their colonial possessions provided them with economic and military strength that would otherwise be lost to the alliance. Nearly all of the United States’ European allies believed that after their recovery from World War II their colonies would finally provide the combination of raw materials and protected markets for finished goods that would cement the colonies to Europe. Whether or not this was the case, the alternative of allowing the colonies to slip away, perhaps into the United States’ economic sphere or that of another power, was unappealing to every European government interested in postwar stability. Although the U.S. Government did not force the issue, it encouraged the European imperial powers to negotiate an early withdrawal from their overseas colonies. The United States granted independence to the Philippines in 1946.

However, as the Cold War competition with the Soviet Union came to dominate U.S. foreign policy concerns in the late 1940s and 1950s, the Truman and Eisenhower Administrations grew increasingly concerned that as the European powers lost their colonies or granted them independence, Soviet-supported communist parties might achieve power in the new states. This might serve to shift the international balance of power in favor of the Soviet Union and remove access to economic resources from U.S. allies. Events such as the Indonesian struggle for independence from the Netherlands (1945-50), the Vietnamese war against France (1945-54), and the nationalist and professed socialist takeovers of Egypt (1952) and Iran (1951) served to reinforce such fears, even if new governments did not directly link themselves to the Soviet Union. Thus, the United States used aid packages, technical assistance and sometimes even military intervention to encourage newly independent nations in the Third World to adopt governments that aligned with the West. The Soviet Union deployed similar tactics in an effort to encourage new nations to join the communist bloc, and attempted to convince newly decolonized countries that communism was an intrinsically non-imperialist economic and political ideology. Many of the new nations resisted the pressure to be drawn into the Cold War, joined in the “nonaligned movement,” which formed after the Bandung conference of 1955, and focused on internal development.

The newly independent nations that emerged in the 1950s and the 1960s became an important factor in changing the balance of power within the United Nations. In 1946, there were 35 member states in the United Nations; as the newly independent nations of the “third world” joined the organization, by 1970 membership had swelled to 127. These new member states had a few characteristics in common; they were non-white, with developing economies, facing internal problems that were the result of their colonial past, which sometimes put them at odds with European countries and made them suspicious of European-style governmental structures, political ideas, and economic institutions. These countries also became vocal advocates of continuing decolonization, with the result that the UN Assembly was often ahead of the Security Council on issues of self-governance and decolonization. The new nations pushed the UN toward accepting resolutions for independence for colonial states and creating a special committee on colonialism, demonstrating that even though some nations continued to struggle for independence, in the eyes of the international community, the colonial era was ending.

End excerpt___

Some important keywords in the articles referenced above are as follows:
“Soviet Union”, “communism”, “European”, “colonies”, “imperialism”, “natural resources”, “afraid”, and “threat”. FEAR was a number one concern of the day.

At the dawn of the Cold War between the East and the West, emerging nations in Africa found themselves caught in the middle of a complicated geo-political nuclear game. International support for a progressive development toward democracy and sustainable economic development for people in Africa was traded off for strategic interests and political influence, access to critical resources (oil, gas, and minerals) in the battle for political allies to help fight the spread of communist (and capitalist) ideologies and hegemony. The effects of misguided foreign policy decisions and acts of aggression during the long Cold War era were simply disastrous for many developing nations around the globe.

Whatever good intentions were behind setting up USAID and other foreign assistance programs from various U.S. government agencies and departments the whole effort was being held captive by a very tense and dangerous military standoff between the communists (China and the Soviet bloc countries) on one side and the Western allies (U.S.A., Western Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea) on the other.

So what did the new political leaders in Africa do? Which side did they choose and why? Did they even have a choice to stay out of the fight? What impact did their foreign policy negotiations and decisions have on their newly independent country’s economic and social development? These important questions require answers in order to better understand how some African countries were able to move forward while others did not or in the worst cases began their slide toward the abyss.

The Soviet Union and China’s leaders aggressively sought new allies in Asia and Africa and in the Americas for their ideological wars with the West. As revealed in the 2003 speech delivered by Russian scholar Sergey Mazov to the Wilson Center several post-independence leaders in Africa played active roles in helping the Soviets rollout their influence and dreams of hegemony on the African continent. The consequences of this game of playing one superpower against the other for personal and political gain were disastrous for the ordinary African. What were the African leaders who sided with the communists thinking? Did they think that Western powers were just going to stand by and watch Africa’s plentiful resources, land, and people (markets) go to the rising communist powers in the East?

While many Africans had died fighting for independence and freedom from their European colonial masters in wars of national liberation, some African countries transitioned relatively peacefully to independence from 1957–1975. Yet what followed over the next decades in sub-Saharan Africa was beyond anyone’s worst nightmare at the time. The Cold War policies of the Soviet Union and “the West” helped fuel many of the conflicts and outbreaks of violence in African countries during the latter half of the 20th century opening the door to an array of non-state players (crooks and gunrunners) who took advantage of the chaos of civil war to exploit resources (blood diamonds and timber) in exchange for cash and weapons.

Innocent men, women, and children died by the millions under the repressive rule of a long series of brutal dictators, autocrats, kleptomaniacs and “lords of war”. They died not only from bombs, bullets, and machetes but from disease and hunger; they died from the shock that follows long term suffering, loss and neglect. Today in the Democratic Republic of Congo five years after the last peace agreement was signed between the ruling government and warring militias in 2003, civilians are still dying from disease and poor health due to a near complete lack of public healthcare and transportation infrastructure. Today in the 21st century Congolese civilians are dying at a rate of 45,000 people a month! 5.4 million Congolese have perished since the outbreak of Africa’s deadliest conflict (the Congo Wars). Let that factoid sink into your brain cells for awhile because the number of innocent people who continue to die in the DR Congo is just mind-boggling.

It is a crisis that should be totally unacceptable for caring citizens of a civilized world but the world community feigns helplessness in bringing this long suffering to an end. According to news reports there is not enough support ($$$) from UN member countries for the UN Congo mission and there have been serious complaints and charges of sexual violations, resource exploitation, and gunrunning by some of the UN peacekeepers. There is not enough money to build the urgently needed clinics and hospitals to help mass rape victims and the injured and sick, not enough money to buy medicines or pay the salaries of doctors and nurses. And yet the UN mission to the DR Congo (MONUC) has a yearly budget exceeding US $1 billion dollars with the lion’s share of funding coming from the U.S.A. (Note: according to 2006 figures the U.S. Government funds roughly 27% of the MONUC budget plus contributes an extra US$ 100 million per year in health care and humanitarian assistance to the DRC). Half of the 2006 MONUC budget (US$ 550 million) was used to buy fuel and service the 100+ aircraft of the UN MONUC fleet, the largest airline fleet in Africa.

The independent journalist and blogger Mvemba Phezo Dizolele who served as a fellow at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting wrote an editorial about the state of the DRC crisis for the Hoover Institution magazine (Stanford University): “How to end the deadliest war in Africa” – Hoover Digest, issue 3 2006. Readers can also read Mvemba’s articles and watch his documentary work at the Pulitzer Center website and visit his personal blog Eye on Africa. The UN Mission for the Democratic Republic of Congo maintains a very informative website (MONUC.org) and MONUC has a video channel on YouTube.

What should have been a Golden Age for emerging democracies and developing economies in Africa instead turned into an Age of Horror filled with unending wars, wholesale death and destruction, the forced displacement of civilians, crumbling public institutions and infrastructure, a rapid spread of disease and hunger that costs the lives of millions of people. A dark cloud of hopelessness and despair descended over much of Africa during this period and remained in place there for decades. In the West some described this period in African history as the Age of Afro-pessimism. Many critics of foreign aid to Africa point to these many years of political instability and social upheaval as the major hindrance to the effectiveness of development assistance with the best intentions. Only recently has this viewpoint begun to change in the minds of some as exemplified by this Center for Global Development event: Governance Matters: De-bunking the Afro-pessimism Myth (Nov 28, 2007).

In my opinion those past 50 years were a pivotal period in world history, a time where key leaders of the newly independent African nations along with their American and European counterparts made some disastrous foreign policy decisions. The ordinary hardworking people of Africa and people in developing countries throughout the world paid the price and they paid dearly. In reality we have all paid the price when we look back and are honest with ourselves. People in Africa still suffer from the devastating effects of civil war and conflict, poor political leadership, economic mismanagement and corruption, theft of state funds and natural resources, an acute lack of public health care and inadequate public education of youth, poor transport capabilities and non-existent public facilities and infrastructure.

Then there is the issue of dubious foreign aid and economic assistance: the loans and other financial transactions between donor nations and African governments which indebted Africa to the hilt. Recent G8 debt relief initiatives combined with economic reforms is finally helping to alleviate some of the heavy debt burden on a number of the most impoverished African countries. There is still a long way to go in Africa to help bring endemic corruption under control, in demanding transparency for government contracts for the extraction of natural resources and construction deals, increasing export trade abroad and encouraging more cross-border trade in Africa. As Africa’s people gain a stronger voice in choosing leaders that practice good governance, leaders that exercise smart fiscal management and lookout for the public welfare, partner countries such as the U.S.A. will be in a much better position to leverage official development assistance and economic aid so that it has a greater impact on the lives of ordinary citizens in Africa___ and not be used to further enrich the political and business elite or line the already bulging pockets of despots, tyrants, dictators and corrupt public officials.


The People’s Republic of China, which until recently has not been a major contributor to Africa’s economic development is stepping in with new dubious loans and shady financial deals of its own. Despite the praise from African capitals and business leaders and international financial institutions i.e. The World Bank and IMF for China’s new economic assistance to Africa, the aggressive nature of investment by China in Africa’s oil, gas, and minerals, the awarding of low-bid state contracts for construction of new public roads and infrastructure to Chinese state-owned and state-financed companies, and the literal invasion of African domestic markets with Chinese labor and goods both angers and worries many people in America and Europe___ and in Africa too. It remains to be seen if this so-called Win-Win approach to development assistance for Africa turns out to be the winning strategy that China proclaims. Or will it be just another form of colonialism and natural resource exploitation leaving Africa weaker and economically worse off than ever.

Link to Seven Questions Interview: Q&A Nrs. 5-3 (next page), 5-1 (previous)
Link to Seven Questions Interview: Q&A Nrs. 1, 2, 3, 4


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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Seven Questions Interview: Q&A Nr. 5-3

U.S.-Africa Relations: People helping people, the private sector and NGO’S

So getting back to your original question, what was your original question? Oh yeah, “In which areas do I think that America has made a significant contribution to Africa’s development?” Well, despite the false starts and problems over the past 50 years, let me list just a few of the many positive contributions that come to mind:

Agricultural research, development, and improved crop protection.

Environmental science and conservation programs.

Education and scholarship (including student and scholar exchanges).

Medical research, development and technology transfers.

Democracy building and governance programs.

Military and public security (police, customs) training and assistance.

Conflict resolution initiatives and peace negotiations.

Justice (courts) and legal training and development programs.

Public services and national health care programs.

Economic assistance and financial management support.

Export and regional markets development and trade.

Infrastructure financing, energy generation and distribution projects.

Clean water sourcing, management, and distribution.

Private sector investment and entrepreneurial development.

Humanitarian assistance and crisis and disaster relief.

Listing the various programs and projects and initiatives showing how the American people have attempted to help in the positive development of Africa would be a very long list indeed. But what is of utmost importance is that the assistance works and that Americans and others work in close partnerships with the African people (the stakeholders). It is also important that aid has a positive impact on the lives of people, that it is easily measurable and has transparent goals and objectives. I hope that someday the people of the U.S.A. working together with Africans and with our international partners can help African countries reach the goal of not needing foreign aid to survive, but for some countries that day still seems a very long way off.

So for the past 50 years the U.S.A. along with some economically developed nations in Europe and Asia and the Middle East have contributed billions in financial aid and development assistance to African countries. And what did they get in return for their good deeds? Several donor nations received favorable trade relationships and slick business deals for strategic natural resources, political support at the United Nations and other intergovernmental bodies and commissions, and for all of the humanitarian assistance and relief aid donated some people are able to sleep better at night.

Recent studies carried out by leading economists and development experts on the effectiveness of aid has shown that some foreign aid is not working for the people of Africa. Foreign assistance in the form of grants, loans, and food has too often been squandered and stolen bringing little if any benefit to target groups. Aid effectiveness is a hotly debated topic among some of the world’s leading economists and policy makers and is the focus of the September 2008 meeting of international development ministers and organizations in Ghana (Third High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness).

Official Development Assistance (non-military grants and loans) and foreign aid effectiveness are under intensive review in the U.S. including agencies of the government and leading economic experts and civic organizations. President George W. Bush in a March 2002 speech proposed a drastic reform of U.S. foreign assistance policy and programs that he termed the “New Compact for Development” (see text of Bush speech at the UN Financing and Development Conference in Monterey, Mexico). The Economic Perspectives journal (March 2003 issue) featured an article by former Secretary of State Colin Powell speaking about the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA). The Bush administration proposed a USD $5 billion increase in U.S. foreign assistance by FY 2006. The Millennium Challenge Corporation was launched in January 2004 to administer the Millennium Challenge Account programs.


Yet in 2008 the foreign aid administered by the Millennium Challenge Corporation is in trouble and is facing cutbacks by the U.S. Congress due to an inability to rollout projects and programs in Africa. The U.S. Congress has approved less funding than requested by the Bush Administration for every MCC budget since the programs inception. Budget shortfalls for FY 2008 (the budget request = USD $2.225 billion) are predicted to be around $500 million dollars. The Millennium Challenge Corporation maintains two blogs in addition to their webiste where you can find more information and interact with the staff and the CEO (Ambassador John Danilovich on Supporting Africa: Action Speaks Louder than Words).

U.S. foreign assistance budgets are considerable amounts of money (the U.S. ODA budget for FY 2005 reached US$ 27.6 billion), but it is a drop in the bucket compared to what the U.S. Government spends on its own military, foreign military assistance, and the war against illegal drugs. Note: the U.S. Government has spent more than USD $69 billion per year worldwide for the last 40 years on the Global War against Illicit Drugs. This amounts to a sum of approximately US $2.5 trillion dollars and guess what____ we are losing taxpayer’s money and the War on Drugs!

The U.S.A. provides more than 25% of all government aid spent by the 30-member countries of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), and the FY 2005 figures show an increase in ODA as a percentage of U.S. Gross National Income to 0.22%. According to USAID fact sheets the U.S. is the leading importer of goods and commodities from developing countries, reaching an import dollar value of USD $449 billion in FY 2001, eight times the total amount of Official Development Assistance from all OECD donor countries. When U.S. direct foreign investments, aid from private foundations and NGO’s, remittances from immigrants working in the U.S., and private charitable donations are added to the U.S. Official Development Assistance figures for 2005, total U.S. foreign assistance to developing countries dwarfs the total amount from any other country.

Many people are not aware that the bulk of U.S. foreign aid and economic assistance comes from the private sector in the U.S.A. (private citizens, small companies and big corporations, philanthropy foundations and charities, universities and colleges, and huge religious organizations and networks). According to the 2007 Index of Global Philanthropy report (Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Philanthropy) Americans contributed 79% (US $95.5 billion) of the total US $122.8 billion in foreign aid provided by the U.S.A. to developing countries in 2005. So for all those critics and pundits who claim that the U.S. Government is not doing enough in the area of economic assistance to developing countries you need to think about these numbers. You might come to the realization that you have been barking up the wrong tree. It’s the people of the United States of America who contribute the lion’s share of $$$ for international aid and economic development___ not the agencies and departments of the U.S. Government.

U.S. Food Aid Policies and Africa


It has also been revealed through careful research and study that some developing countries’ continued dependence on foreign food shipments and emergency food aid for the prevention of hunger and starvation are destroying the livelihood of millions of small farmers. Combined with the devastating effect of the illegal commercial fishing fleets and pirate fishing off the coast of West and East Africa, Africa’s fishermen and small landholder farmers are struggling to survive. It’s another urgent problem that U.S. and international officials and policy makers must address in the next months and years along with effects of climate change, drought and the fresh drinking water shortages in Africa. Chatham House in the UK has setup a special website to inform the public about IUU fishing (illegal, unreported, unregulated) which is costing developing countries between USD $4-9 billion per year in lost revenues.

Link to Seven Questions Interview: Q&A Nr. 5-4 (next page), 5-2 (previous)
Link to Seven Questions Interview: Q&A Nrs. 1, 2, 3, 4


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