If you own an Internet connection (and I assume you do, otherwise how the hell are you reading this) you’ll know the joy and simple amusement of receiving friendly emails from Nigerians who have millions sitting in a bank account and are prepared to change your life forever if you could simply see your way to sharing your bank account details with them.
I always used to get a laugh out of these missives chuckling quietly to myself about the naivity of those who would fall for a patently transparent scam.
And then I got a phone call.
A publication would like me to edit their magazine which was to be published in South Africa, a new title about current African affairs called Montage Africa.
Interesting I thought, and not all that taxing seeing as already edit a couple of mags.
Long story short, I met with their representatives, drew up a heads of agreement and completed the task, in the process sorting out 96 pages of writing that could charitably be described as incomprehensible.
I was then asked to write a short cover story on the current American president and his relationship with Africa. I reluctantly agreed and (while on leave I might add) completed this assignement.
Was I paid for this work? Was I hell. Not a cent, not a dime, despite being reassured that the Nigerian publisher was on his way back to South Africa and all accounts would be settled.
Now I’m sure that Nigeria is full of fine upstanding citizens who conduct themselves with utter integrity and don’t have access to the ex finance minister’s bank account, however stereotypes tend to carry the argument when it comes to that country.
I’ve learned my lesson and in future will simply not deal with any so called business people from Nigeria.
The publication has still not appeared on South African shelves and I doubt it ever will.
However, for the sake of my own pride I’ve included the article below for those who have any interest, at least if they try to publish I can say that readers saw it here first.
If any Nigerians are insulted by what I’ve written, then tough, you get me my payment and I’ll be glad to write about your sterling qualities of honesty and integrity and your country’s undoubted contributions to global society. Until then you can kiss my ass.
For those of you interested the article I wrote follows:
DOES AFRICA DESERVE OBAMA?
As the cries of ‘Yes We Can’ began echoing across the United States of America many on the African continent began to hope that the Democratic hold on the White House would signal a new and even bolder engagement with African nations.
Although the terms of both George W. Bush and his predecessor, Bill Clinton had been characterised by a firm commitment to the African continent it was thought that Obama’s more liberal / social tendencies, and his ethnicity would mean a greater understanding of the challenges faced by countries and societies across Africa.
In fact prior to Obama’s election to the highest office in the United States, Witney Schneidman, an adviser on Africa to Mr Obama said that Africom, the US military command for Africa, should also realise its potential, in co-operation with other US agencies and regional partners, to promote peace, security, and stability on the continent. It was widely expected that Obama would be almost certain to build upon the Bush legacy on aid to the continent and HIV/Aids, as well as continue the Bush presidency’s strategy regarding African security issues.
Obama would be standing on the shoulders of at least one giant in terms of fostering positive change on the African continent.
Previous administrations had put Africa at the forefront of their foreign policy commitments.
Although George W. Bush was not the most popular President, at home or abroad, his record of commitment to the African continent was exemplary. Amongst other initiatives he led the American government in pumping $18Bn into the fight against HIV / Aids, much of it to be spent in Africa as well as backing the canceling of $34bn worth of crippling debt for 27 African states.
He was also not silent on Africa’s human rights record, condemning Sudan’s actions in Darfur as genocide. Nor was George W. Bush a wilting lily when it came to making the hard choices, when push came to shove he more than lived up to his reputation is a man who would back up his strong words with even stronger action. In Africa he demonstrated his disdain for the soft option when he backed Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia to battle Islamists.
One could argue that actions like this speak more to an enlightened transcontinental self interest rather than any selfless motives on the part of a Republican government, however actions like launching an initiative that halved Malaria (Africa’s biggest killer) in 15 African countries tends to balance out opinions on the contribution of the Bush administration in Africa. When Bob Geldof, himself no right leaning conservative, admits that the Bush administration “saved millions of lives’ in Africa then you can rest assured that the united States under a Republican Bush administration reached out successfully to change the lives of entire nations on the African continent.
Prior to the tenure of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton served with less aplomb in terms of his relationship with Africa, a prime example being his lukewarm reaction to the genocide in Rwanda.
But how exactly will Barack Obama fit into the hot and cold, on again and off again love affair that the United States seems to have nurtured with the African continent?
Obama’s so called Kenyan roots have not had much of an influence on his attitude towards the mother continent. He has surrounded himself with a circle of advisors who, on the face of it seem more caught up in the business of appeasing old enemies and forging new (and some would say not very attractive) alliances.
A prime example would be Susan Rice, Obama’s choice as ambassador to the United Nations. Rice is a prime example of a Clinton era appointee who is see, at least in Rwanda as one of the many Clinton advisors who shied away from doing anything concrete to stop to genocide in that country.
For many in the Rwandan government, there exists a broad ambivalence about the Obama administration, an attitude that is wait and see rather than sit and hope. The attitude is centered on the team surrounding Obama, rather than on the man himself, who is still widely adored in Africa.
The question is, how long is this adoration going to last?
The answer may be beguilingly simple and consist of two terse words “not forever”. The citizens of African nations may be growing weary of their governments’ reliance on external donors to improve their lives. There is a growing feeling that the steady drip feeding of external aid into African economies may do more harm than good. The idea that this aid nurtures an unhealthy reliance on paternalistic largesse and consequent absence of motivation by governments to change their kleptocratic inclinations.
So what is the solution for Obama if he is to retain the goodwill of the African continent? The answer may be to emulate an unlikely role model, George W. Bush.
Because of Bush’s initiatives on trade and AIDS, Africa policy was one of the few relatively bright spots on his international relations report card. One Kigali-based Rwandan official cites a bilateral relationship that–perhaps surprisingly for an administration not seen as fond of dialogue–involved alot of listening. “The Bush administration treated us like partners, more than any other in the past,” she said. “They tended to listen more. It was refreshing.”
Perhaps that’s the key for the Obama administration, listening to what the nations of Africa need, rather than taking for granted the idea that aid should take the form of Dollars. Perhaps assisting nations with debt relief and security assurances would go further to solving many of the problems of what is still for many, the dark continent.
Security is one area where the United States has become more proactive in recent years. The threat of many African states becoming safe havens for international terror has spurred the behemoth of the American security apparatus into action. Today news wires shrill with indignant notices of extra judicial killings, drone strikes and unwarranted detention at the hands of shadowy figures with middle American accents.
The truth of the matter is that like it or not America is the world’s watchdog, and in order for it to be taken seriously by what it has traditionally called “the enemies of liberty” that dog has got to do more than growl menacingly, and Obama is slowly realising that biting is sometimes necessary, especially in a tough neighbourhood like Africa.
But African nations need to temper their expectations. Obama is a President with enormous domestic challenges to face. Aside from his failing policies on Medicare and his inability to stem a rising tide of unemployment he is also facing a senate that has responded to his rallying cry of “yes we can’ with a resounding “no you can’t, not while we have a house majority.’
The question that the African continent needs to be asking is whether the absence of an American foreign policy specifically geared towards propping up many of the dysfunctional governments that bedevil the continent is a blessing or a curse. There are many who strongly believe that Africa’s time to go it alone is now. The continent has a backbone made of precious minerals and ores and its people are capable of making the continent into the breadbasket of the world. Perhaps its time for Africa to divest itself of the artificial life support of international aid and take its rightful place in the community of nations as a net contributor, rather than a drain on global resources.
Whether or not the United States will be hamstrung by a lame duck President, or that Obama’s star is beginning to wane after shining brightly for only a brief moment has yet to be seen.
What is patently obvious is that this American Presidency will, at least for the moment, be inwardly focused and only when the United States sets its own house in order can Africa and indeed the wider global community expect to see a resurgent American foreign policy that will extend a helping hand to those in need from Cape to Cairo.
For now it’s a case of “physician heal thyself”
Perhaps it’s a mantra that Africa should be following as well.