Dr. Udogu responds to essay by Sandra Barnes (N. 221) E. Ike Udogu is professor of International, Comparative and African Politics in the Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice, Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina. He is the Director of Research and Publication, African Studies and Research Forum (ASRF), USA. He has published extensively on African and Nigerian Politics and listed in the 2000 Outstanding Scholars of the 21st Century publication. His forthcoming book is titled: Nigeria in the 21st Century: Strategies for Political Stability and Peaceful Coexistence (AWP).
May I with permission from the "elders" rejoin this exciting and insightful discourse on "How to Move Africa Forward in the 21st Century" and to direct my humble comments to some of the extremely important points raised in Dialogue 221 titled: Global Flows: Terror, Oil and Strategic Philanthropy. The significance of this contribution also issues from the fact that it would be published in our prestigious journal, African Studies Review in April 2005 as the major Presidential address delivered to the African Studies Association in New Orleans, November 12, 2004. It is great that its publication in this important medium has further brought it and its contents into the academy and to those who are not traditionally members of the African Studies Association. I congratulate the contributor and convener of this forum for making this speech available to us. I also salute those who have made their invaluable contribution to this forum. The debates have been lively and educational. Indeed, I contend that at the dawn of the 21st century few scholars, if any, are likely to state that one of the problems hampering Africa's development is attributable to a "false start by the academicians in their efforts to speak meaningfully to each other and to Africa's law makers." We cannot also be accused of not attempting to proffer solutions to some of our pressing problems. We have, in fact, taken that important first step. I must also add that I was honored and, indeed, flattered to have been asked to read and reflect (in general) on the thrust of Dialogue 221. I intend to express my views (not critique) this contribution and to conclude with a challenge to everyone who might have the fortune or misfortune of reading my submission.
Although the points raised in this provocative and thought-provoking speech are not novel, the significance of the issues discussed for the future political and economic development of Africa cannot be wished away as we reposition ourselves, I hope, to reclaim our metaphorical Village. I refer to Africa as a village because it is our primordial home, and I need no further explanation. Whereas the essay rests on the centrality of United States foreign policy and involvement toward Africa, it is the forms and character of US and its agents and agencies (MNCs/TNCs) interactions with Africa in three inter-related areas-military, corporations and the media that inform the overarching discussions in this well-researched piece. I will examine, contextually, these areas.
Military Involvement in Africa
Foreign policy is sometimes explained in terms of a nation-state's objectives and the means with which to attain such goals in its interactions with other nation-state/s. In this definition (and there many others), two major concerns as they relate to Africa are worth pointing out. These are Objectives and the Means with which to achieve the aims. It is clear from this essay that the US major objectives in this case are oil and fighting terrorism and that the US intends to use its awesome military power to accomplish her objectives. What is worrisome in the African context, however, is the dominant position expressed by powerful members of its decision making clique-sometimes referred to as the "neo-cons." Indeed, the author notes: "American policy makers and business leaders see in Africa a special set of threats, a special set of dangers, and a special set of challenges," that I believe have been invented as rationales for the control of the oil producing regions of Africa. Personally, I see nothing wrong if the politico-economic relationship is mutual but I don't see that. Indeed, what one witnesses today, is that the oil-producing areas are under siege from two major flanks-US government policies (aimed at controlling the leaders of the oil-producing states) and the corporations operating in the area (whose sole purpose is making profit-often at the expense of the host country). But it takes two to do the Tango. In discussing the penetration of American foreign policy in the region, African compradors, corrupt politicians, sons/daughters and relatives of presidents and prime ministers not only connive with foreign businesses to exploit the oil wealth but also seek help for their survival in office by using terrorism (a la communism during the Cold War) as an instrument with which to liquidate possible threats from internal opposition groups. And so the cycle of violence continues and the poor remains the victim of arms confrontation since the children of these leaders are generally "posted" to safe havens in the West. As a pacifist, I have often suggested without success that modern Presidents and Prime Ministers should be made to lead their troops (in front) in battles as was the case in antiquity, and maybe they would think twice before going to war.
In any case, in reading this section of Dialogue 221, I was unable to see the problem in US foreign policy except perhaps to "blame" the actions of those who formulate them as being too self-centered and lacking in "moral" judgment. But whoever says that in the pursuit of national interest that morality or objectivity is always taken seriously. And here, I do not wish to preach to the choir in view of the character of politics and contemporary World politics-that is grounded in Niccolo Machiavelli's dictum: the end justifies the means. It might be important to re-iterate what students of politics, and most certainly foreign policy, are quick to point out: "The concept of national interest is a misnomer!" What is often referred to as national interest, contended a British scholar, is really elite interest. So, Nigerian, Gabonese, Cameroonian, Angolan elites, for example, work jointly with their American counterparts to further their common interest/s using the state and its apparatuses to accomplish their common, if not parochial, objectives.
In attempts to fight "terrorism" in Africa in order to protect oil flow to the West, African leaders generally would invite Americans (and other foreign troops) to come protect them-i.e., the leaders and benefactors of the presence of American forces and in return the protectors (America and TNCs) must be rewarded-in this case with oil.
But as the piece suggests and as noted above, the government and in a broader context, the state in Africa is "irrelevant" since powerful multinational corporations dictate policies that these African leaders should pursue in the interest of these corporations and the African leaders themselves. Arguably, few African leaders are really in control of their countries. Failure to cow tow to the policies of these mighty corporations could lead to "regime change." Haba! It almost happened in Equatorial Guinea. Indeed, as is sometimes said in some quarters that when "Shell Oil Company sneezes, Abuja catches cold." Given the penetration of this oil company in Nigerian political and economic life as long ago as the 1950s, this assertion might not be an exaggeration. Ditto Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and some of the powerful oil companies operating in these countries. After all, he who pays the piper may have to name the tune.
One of the perplexing dimensions of the piece as it relates to my opinion and our dialogue is that decision that affect how African states should govern themselves are often made outside Africa. And when some African leaders (particularly the weak ones) are addressed (or should I say preached at) by the representatives of the powerful nations they (African leaders) are simply told what to do because of the over-dependence of these leaders on Washington. This is not to mention the fact that some of them tremble before top representatives of US government for fear that thy might not receive economic aid if they refuse to implement policies that are dictated to them because they wont work in Africa. Indeed, solutions to Africa's problems must come from Washington not from African countries where these policies are to be implemented. At no time has Africa or African nation-states met and recommend policies that might help the US administration tackle its internal problems. Yet, like children, some African leaders are known for flying to Washington, DC, London and Paris to seek solution to problems that could be resolved in the continent. They are in effect saying that efficacious solutions to Africa's problems could only work if they emanate from these capitals. Witness, initially, how wobbly African states were before they reached a decision following the Darfur imbroglio in the Sudan. In any case, my position is that the "infantile" approach to solving issues confronting Africa (by running to London, Paris, and Washington) may have had its roots in our colonial experience, but it is about time African leaders reviewed this approach. That notwithstanding, they deserve our kudos in their current approach to conflict resolution in the continent.
Global Capitalism and Corporate Philanthropy
I am reminded of one of the submissions to this dialogue in which the contributor straightforwardly reminded Africans who were immigrating to the West of the work ethic in these societies. To paraphrase the contributor he/she noted that in the West if you earned $10.00, you may have done a job that should have paid $20.00. I saw a number of such Africans in Naples, Italy. But what point am I trying to make? It is that the activities of Multinational Corporations/Transnational Corporations in Africa and elsewhere must be understood for what they are-to make substantial profit. There is nothing within the doctrine or ideology of capitalism that is wrong with making profit. The question, though, is what do these TNCs get in return for their investment? For many years the "sweet heart" deals which some TNCs strike with African leaders and compradors have in their wake ended up ruining the environment in which they operated, and in their so-called attempts to assuage the anger of exploited peoples and communities these TNCs have come up with schemes such as "strategic philanthropy." My gripe over this process issues from the cosmetic effect of these projects that are often localized and designed to mollify a few chiefs, local leaders and the indigenous workers of these companies. That was what Shell Oil Company did in Warri, an economic hub of Delta State and Nigeria. Whereas the elite staff members live in exclusive "residential segregation" and belong to prestigious recreational clubs, the majority of the population living in the heart of the city is exposed to abject poverty, environmental degradation and insecurity. This bustling and cosmopolitan oil city is my "village"-the place that I was born.
The idea of collaboration between communities and MNCs/TNCs in Africa is great but only if the local people are involved in the process and actually determine how the contributions made to the communities are disbursed. Generally, what the majority of people want are not golf courses and other activities that do no affect their daily lives. What they want are clean water, good roads, adequate schools, regularly pay for workers and teachers, constant flow of electricity and first class hospitals. These are necessary for their daily survival. Whatever clubs the elite wish to join is their own business. So, while the "philanthropies" of the TNCs are welcomed, they must be channeled to those who need them the most-the majority of the population and these could be offered for much less than what MNCs spend on the elite. My view, though, is that philanthropy in Africa is good only to the extent that an African country is relatively poor. I contend that if the wealth generated in an African country is wisely spent and distributed (unlike Zaire under Mobutu, Nigeria under Abacha and others) the need for "strategic philanthropy" or whatever is uncalled for. Indeed, it could lead to dependency and the exacerbation of corruption.
Let's face it the interest of America's literary public toward activities going on in Africa is infinitesimal. How does information on Africa affect American lives, especially when the business done with Africa (excluding the oil producing areas) is so insignificant to US economy? How many of the ordinary citizens care to read the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, et cetera? Indeed, as university professors, we are often enticed with all sorts of offers in return for introducing these newspapers to our students. In short, college students seldom read papers except, of course, their grades in the class depended on their having to read them. I receive invitations every semester from a number of these papers
Except for the AIDS "pandemic" in the region, very little is said or discussed on Africa in the academy. Why? Perhaps it is because our leaders portray us as always wanting this or that from Americans and their government. Many Africans in the diaspora are generally sick and tired of picking up the news paper to read about their leader's visit to Washington with cap in hand begging for economic assistance when some in part are responsible for running their country's economy down. And what is more, there are many African former and present leaders that are wealthier than the country itself-a point that was not lost in one of President Obasanjo's speeches. If these billionaires (in their local currencies) invested in their own countries (or Africa) and not Switzerland and elsewhere, Africa would probably be well-off today. Moreover, their expenditures are not transparent and yet they preach the political gospel of accountability and transparency-let's see how many politicians in Nigeria will take Aluko's challenge (in Dialogue 209) seriously and head on (and we are waiting).
Strategically, one could argue that some of these major newspapers are beholden to the major corporations because they have stocks in their newspapers and also pay top dollars to advertise in them. The CEOs of oil companies might be friends to the newspaper editors and sometimes they belong to the same social clubs. It might be next to impossible if this kind of relationship exist for newspapers to print negative information on the activities of oil companies prospecting for oil in Africa.
It goes without saying that one important contribution of this dialogue is the dissemination of important information through this medium to Africans and Africanists living in America because of our access to information technologies. Be that as it may, our attempts to improve the flow of information on Africa in American media must be an ongoing one. We must work with various groups for which the African Studies Association, African Studies and Research Forum, and others have been important outlets for spreading information on Africa. I met Salih Booker at a US Foreign Relations meeting a couple of years ago and applauded him for his stout defense and representation of Africa on PSB and elsewhere.
In all, the issues in Dialogue 221 are thought-provoking, and they call for our attention. It is true to suggest that "no one listens" to the poor, the marginalized, weak minorities and so on in any society and Africa is not an exception. At this juncture very few "spin doctors" and as some of you have suggested foreign governments can help us out of our underdevelopment. We must, therefore, help ourselves. In my introduction to this piece I said that I was going to conclude my reflections on Dialogue 221 by challenging this group to action.
Africa: Where do we go from here?
On ascending to power in the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev accessed the political and economic problems of the country he had inherited. It was clear to him that the situation and conditions in the country needed to change. He then appealed to his people and the world that "there was need for a New Thinking both in the Soviet Union and the World." It was a New Thinking as to how the Soviet people should organize their lives-around the economic and political system; it was a New Thinking as to how the superpowers should interact with each other and the rest of the world in contemporary global village. And, yes, it is a New Thinking that should inform African leaders from the local to the national tiers of government in their relationships with the African peoples in the 21st century as we move Africa to a higher level.
Also, in the early 1900s faced with the subjugation of black people in Africa and the diaspora Du Boise, black intellectuals and political activists met to address their concerns in what later became the pan-Africanist movement. Their concern then and now was how to exculpate Africa and the black race from the yoke of domination and colonialism in order for black peoples everywhere to stand tall and control their destiny. Here we are communicating in the early 2000s, as was the case in early 1900s, discussing in part how to become masters of our own fate in the current era of globalization. Clearly, we have, as it were, for the last 100 years or so been struggling to find our way and our leaders, with a few exceptions, have failed us miserably. And, we as members of the informed public have failed the continent, too.
Look at our great continent, 50 years after independence our Garden of Eden is still in Decay to cite Ali Mazrui in his classics: The Africans. It is in decay not because we lack sufficient resources and manpower to compete with any region in the world but because those who have led us betrayed the sacred trust that was bestowed on them. Indeed, to paraphrase the late Julius Nyerere, in another context, I do not wish to lecture this galaxy of intelligentsia who know much more than I do about our problems and how to solve them.
What are some steps that we could take as we begin this new century to tackle the issues raised in Dialogue 221 and those that you have raised in this forum? I submit the following:
1. Establish a number of "Think Tanks" in Africa and the diaspora made of men and women of intellectual timber. Their job, among other things, will be to provide assistance to African leaders in the areas of good governance and economic development. A country that provides its citizens with the means for their daily survival doesn't need an army-let alone external powers to protect them (e.g. Costa Rica).
2. Organize a Global and World conference of Africans in Africa and the diaspora. The purpose of such a history-making forum should center on some of the excellent issues that have been raised in the contributions to this forum and other issues that are helpful for the development of Africa.
3. Send a powerful letter to our leaders to inform them of our intentions for Africa in the next 50 years emphasizing the points that we have enough manpower and natural resources to move Africa forward in this millennium.
4. Establish a "Hall of Shame" for leaders, politicians, etc who have looted their country's treasury and whose poor leadership have led to war and destruction of their country.
5. Establish a "Hall of Fame" for leaders, politicians and citizens, who practice good governance, transparency, accountability and who invest in Africa, etc. (4 and 5 were suggested in one of the earlier contributions)
6. In 4 & five, we should employ the media not only to ostracize (as we do in our villages) those who are listed in the Hall of Shame in Africa, but also in the countries in which they might flee to (particularly North America and Western Europe). Similarly, those listed in the Hall of Fame will be provided the publicity that is needed to make them role models in Africa and worldwide.
Folks, we have been writing (and we are good at it); we have been talking (and we are also good at it). The issues discussed in Dialogue 221 are challenges that we as Africanists and Africans must tackle. We cannot seat and hope that some day someone else will solve them for us. The general results of the development enterprise in Africa for the last 50 years have been disastrous for all of us and we are all to blame for it. This is our century. This is our moment to reclaim Africa. Let's seize it.
E. Ike Udogu