Dr. Abdul Karim Bangura gives a second comment on Sandra T. Barnes' ASA Presidential Address (No. 221) Bangura is a professor of International Relations and a Researcher-In-Residence at the Center for Global Peace in the School of International Service at American University in Washington, DC.
Sandra T. Barnes' presidential address to the African Studies Association in New Orleans on November 12, 2004 is a good speech. It is topical to immediate global security relations between Africa and the United States. She sets out to demonstrate that the United States' involvement in Africa is not continuing its post-Cold War decline and offers three reasons to support her contention. The first reason is that American policy makers perceive a double danger from the threat of terrorism and the risk of an interrupted oil supply. The second is that while corporate leaders see great profit opportunities in Africa, they also see weaknesses of infrastructure and political order as impediments for large scale businesses activities. The third concerns American media and their response to these major changes. Barnes then goes on to provide evidence that supports her thesis. However, the speech neither offers a new theory nor provides new information on the topic discussed.
Two other shortcomings can be delineated. The first shortcoming is that either Barnes is not familiar with some sources that will prompt her to question certain reports upon which she relies to support her claims or she deliberately ignores those sources. For example, Barnes uncritically accepts reports of Al-Qaeda connections in Sierra Leone and other West African states. However, during a congressional hearing a couple of years ago, the authors of these reports could not provide hard evidence to support their claims. This event was reported in several media sources. It has become a habit of some reporters in Washington, DC that to get the attention of policy makers, all they have to do is to mention Al-Qaeda. Another example is Barnes' claim that the Island of Diego Garcia, which has United States' weapon stockpiles, airbases, and personnel, is ignored because both Mauritius and Great Britain claim sovereignty of the territory. However, many reports exist showing that Réunion has been calling for its territory to be returned to it and for the United States to leave. But because Réunion is powerless, its calls are being ignored. One more example is Barnes noting reports on corruption and human rights abuses by the leaders in Equatorial Guinea, but she makes no mention of reports on the plan by American and British officials to engineer a coup d'etat in that country. In this respect, there is need for Barnes to supplement her analysis with positive African agencyÑüthe reality that Africans are very much involved in the reconstruction of their foreign policy trajectories; it is not a one-sided United States' dominant relationship.
The second shortcoming is the very limited attention paid to critical Africanists as compared to classical Africanists in discussing certain issues. Walter Rodney is the only critical Africanist of note that is mentioned in the address. Both Samir Amin and Immanuel Wallerstein have recently commented on these issues.
Despite these shortcomings, as I stated earlier, the speech is good. It highlights an issue that will get serious attention from those studying African-United States relations for at least the next four years.