Saturday, February 16, 2008

Welcome to Africa, President Bush!

By Tajudeen Abdulraheem

Someone very important will be visiting Africa, specifically 5 countries including Tanzania, Rwanda, Benin, Ghana and Liberia. He is the President of the United States of America. The hassles of hosting a US president are bad enough. His people take over your whole country and make our normally inefficient states go into over drive and our egregious First Ladies and their husbands go into overkill to show their hospitality. We never knew many of them could bend their knees until they were leading cleaning troops across the capitals in preparation for Clinton’s visit in 1998 from Kampala to Accra!

I could not forget seeing resident Museveni being a perfect gentleman with a spread umbrella for Mrs Clinton! In Accra, Jerry Rawlings and Mrs Rawlings went out of their ways for a few hours of stop over. But with Bush it is not just the ridiculous security and obsequious protocol laid on by our Presidents that concerns me. African hospitality knows no bounds. Remember some of our chiefs and Kings were so friendly that they parted with ancestral lands and carted away able bodied young men and women for as little as mirrors, umbrellas and walking sticks! Whatever our rational concerns though, the officials in the five ‘chosen’ countries will be beside themselves to give him a reception he will never forget. To them, it is a major diplomatic and political coup for the President of the US to be visiting their countries. It shows their “ungrateful” citizens how very important these leaders are.

I can easily explain why 4 of the countries were on the itinerary. Tanzania remains one of the most peaceful countries in Africa and saves for the mess in Zanzibar and reactionary victimisation of dissenting citizens under the previous regime, it remains a decent state with a government that everyone wants to befriend. With Uganda now becoming less fashionable and Kenya inflicting enormous self injury on itself Dar es Salaam is indeed living up to its name as a rendezvous of peace! Rwanda is probably the best governed and effective state in Africa today (I don’t mean most democratic!).

Kagame has won the grudging respect of reluctant neighbours and admiration of outsiders as a place where you see real value for Aid money and other ‘investments’. It also enjoys the political and diplomatic dividends of guilt-tripping westerners for their actions and inactions prior to, during and after genocide in 1994. Ghana, mother Africa, I wonder how Nkrumah like Nyerere in Tanzania is turning in his grave that the country he built on radical nationalism has become a desirable Executive tourist destination for western Presidents. Ghana has had a prolonged 50th anniversary magic effect only punctuated by the unfortunate defeat by Cameroon in the Africa cup. You cannot go wrong with Ghana as a steady gentleman country. As for Liberia, its historic links to the US is flaunted by its elite without any sense of irony. Post Taylor it has regained fashionability in the US establishment. Bush is therefore bound to receive the warmest of receptions in Monrovia, a city created for freed slaves from the US but whose elite had no qualms in recreating plantation power relations against fellow Africans and continue to behave as the missing state of the US on the West coast of Africa!. But Benin, I do not know why Bush is going there. Maybe to balance up the Anglo-French divisions and remind a waning Paris that there are no no go areas anymore. But maybe he wants to go close enough to Africa’s sleeping giant, Nigeria but without entering it given the uncertainties surrounding the federal administration consequent to rigged elections.

Unlike in Kenya where the protagonists are trying to dialogue even if there does not seem to be much good will in Nigeria they are all in court. And so far the courts have been overturning some of the ‘topped up’ victories for the ruling party. What is the point in going to dine with a president who may not be there by the time you arrive or the week after you leave? The visit is obviously packaged to showcase ‘America working with Africa’ hence the concentration on HIV/Aids programmes supported by the US government through bilateral grants and NGOs. There is no doubt that the Bush administration has given more money, several times, more than that of the Clinton administration, so loved by both African – Americans and Africans. However this generosity is dampened by the insistence on giving money to their own religiously inclined and anti-condom groups. But HIV and Aids is not the only threat that Africa faces in which a globally responsive US President could be of help but to which Bush has turned deaf ears for the past 7 years. He is ideologically opposed to the Millennium Development Goals. He has remained more belligerent than his predecessors on global Climate Change. In spite of all evidence to the contrary he still believes he can bomb countries into democracy which has strengthened the hands of many dictators and legitimized further militarization and regime change politics especially in the Great Lakes region. He may want to be remembered by the few good ones but the consequences of his bad policies are just too many and will outlast him and some of them irreparable due to the collateral evil they have spurned. In spite of my reservations what kind of African would I be to say a visitor is not welcome? And a visitor as important as George Bush. He is welcome to enjoy his stay and our hospitality. We are also hoping that the next President of the US will not behave like a settler landlord of the world and treat the rest of us as illegal tenants in our shared earth. It is a shared world and the US must learn to inhabit it with the rest of us in peace, solidarity, and respect for all big or small. It needs us as much as we need it. Therefore the next President need not be asking why the rest of the World hates America rather he or she needs to be more introvertic by asking if America loves the world enough to live in it peacefully and in justice with the rest of us.

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