Dr. Ebe M. Ochonu:

After reading the excellent, crisp, and well-rounded
commentary of Prof. Paul Zeleza on the Katrina
disaster, I was appalled and utterly disappointed to
read George Ayittey's inopportune dig at those he
calls black leaders. His post is insulting to the
entire black race not just because of its knee-jerk
trademark enthusiasm for blaming the black man but
also because it fails woefully to grasp the subtle
political, economic, and historical subtexts to the
on-going suffering of black people in Louisiana.

At a time when our people are dying and and being
displaced due largely to the failures, incompetence,
wrong priorities, and the ideological dogmatism of the
leader of a country of which they are citizens (a
country whose wealth was built on their backs),
Ayittey makes a post that essentially rehearshes his
familiar and tired diatribe against "black leaders." I
don't believe that such an outburst, whose essence is
a fanatical and unnuanced exoneration of anything
white and the castigation of anything black, is suited
to the existing atmosphere of sombre reflection and
demands for political accountability.

If he does not like the politics of Jesse Jackson and
Al Sharpton--and there are many black people who do
not--that is not a good reason for Ayittey to engage
in such a wholsesale and misplaced indictment of those
he calls black leaders for what is clearly a natural
disaster that was compounded by the failure of
leadership at the highest level and by the systematic
erosion and discrediting of government as an allocator
of social goods and a deliverer of relief in times of
emergency. Prof. Zeleza's inspiring piece has
eloquently articulated how the covergence of
neo-liberal and neoconservative ideologies has
sustained the small government orthodoxy and the
imperial hubris which takes resources away from
domestic social priorities while blaming the poor
(blacks) for their plight and fate. I recommend
Zeleza's piece to Ayittey.

It is one thing to accuse "black leaders" of
granstanding; it is quite another to expect so-called
black political leaders, who have no independent
financial and infratructural base, to replace the
Federal Government and its emergency relief agencies
in the task of dealing with natural disasters--even
when blacks are the ones largely affected. Even the
small club of black millionaires in America cannot
play the role that government is designed, equipped,
capable, and obligated to play in an emergency.

When government agencies are corrupted by ideology
and are primed for failure and when expert opinions
are disregarded or undervalued because of a commitment
to an economic deity of the free market and the
private sector, black leaders, however culpable on
other levels, should not be scapegoated for
catastrophies that inevitably follow.

The haste to exonerate the government, and the
neo-liberal emphasis on self-help, while
understandable as the unfortunate legacy of decades of
ideological and physical assaults on governmental
intervention (the corollary has been a naive
veneration of the supposed efficacy of private
initiative), is oblivious to past successes in
government-cordinated emergency relief and social
programs and the collossal failures of small
government, privatization-centered ideologies. Of
course, my index for success and failure here is not
the sharpening of societal inequalities through the
deepening of already deep pockets by shrinking
governmental institutions of social welfare and uplift
while punishing the poor. For me, the supreme index
for the success or failure of an ideology is its
efficacy in the distribution of wealth and opportunity
and in the protection of society's poor.

It is good to "mobilize black resources" but we must
not forget that, at least in America, such so-called
black resources exist in very small pockets precisely
as a result of the exclusionary and predatory
practices of the dominant white power structure. The
mobilization of black resources cannot also be a
substitute for much needed and much deserved (the
black residents of New Orleans are after all tax
paying citizens of the United States who are entitled
to protection and relief in time of
crisis)governmental intervention.

As to the fact that there is no African country in the
list of donor countries, perhaps Ayittey should not
just fill out a preexisting template of assumptions
whenever there is a crisis or an event affecting black
people. He should at gather some basic information.
Otherwise let him be tentative and less declarative
when he makes assertions. As Prof. Aluko pointed out,
the Nigerian government has donated the sum of $1
million dollars to the relief efforts. If, in spite of
that donation and th at of South Africa, these two
African countries and others which may have donated or
pledged help are not included in the donor list, it is
yet another poignant example of the prejudicial
(non)representation and constructed marginality of
Africa in the Western media. It is no fault of Africa.
Instead of blaming black people, Ayittey should direct
his outrage at those who compiled that list.