Rarely does someone write anything that is complimentary about Africa. This huge, exploited nation of primarily black people has been under siege for over 500 years, but most people in America treat Africa as though all of its people are incompetent or ignorant.
Whenever I mention Africa's history or promise within a column, I receive several e-mails asking why would I be so concerned with a place so bad off. They often say I should be rejoicing that my family was fortunate enough to be enslaved, which made it possible for me to be born in America.
We discuss the famines, tribal wars and the AIDS epidemic as though it's something inherently wrong with the people to let these things happen. This attitude is what leads to a slower response to African crises and American reluctance to get involved in anything on the continent.
Whenever a crisis emerges in Europe, we find a reason to get involved, and no matter why the crisis is there, we focus first on the plight of the people, to build support in America, and later on the incompetence of its leaders.
With Africa, we go directly to its leaders' incompetence, and like our subtle attitude about slavery, there is a hint that things were much better-run during white rule and colonialism (the period between 1890 and the1950s when European countries partitioned Africa and created European colonies).
It's as though we are saying, "You wanted to run things, so go ahead and don't call us if things go wrong."
European and American nations and corporations have been slow to help out in crisis but still continue to exploit Africa financially. In almost every case, African nations are still controlled economically by their former colonial masters.
If a conflict breaks out in an African country, the United States defers to the European nation that controlled that country during colonialism. That country and its indigenous corporations have economic interests to protect and will place them far above the interest of the people in the African country.
This control even extends into the politics of the nation; corporations in Europe manipulate African tribes to get or keep control over raw materials. But the reporters who write about Africa talk about tribal warfare and its carnage and never about the people pulling the strings.
DeBeers International Diamond Merchants has been repeatedly tied to civil wars in Angola, Sierra Leone and Congo. It reportedly will help finance a group of fighters who will then occupy the diamond-producing region of the nation and sell the diamonds cheaply. If they don't finance the rebels originally, they buy the diamonds on the black market, which funds a civil war indirectly. Most African governments find it difficult to fight well-financed armies, and it's impossible to negotiate with people who are there for economic rather than political reasons.
Shell Oil has been tied to civil war in Nigeria, Firestone Tire and Rubber tied to one in Liberia, and the list goes on and on. Western corporations enjoy a monopoly on the natural resources of most nations, and financing a war is a small price to pay to stay in control.
It would not be unusual for two different corporations to be funding a different side in a civil war. The winning side will give a monopoly to the corporation that financed them, and the new government is on the corporation payroll and under their control from the first day they take office.
In most West African countries, you have to call an operator in Europe to place a call to the nation next to you. That's why independence can be a tricky word. If you cannot generate the capital to build a modern infrastructure within your nation, you will have to find a European or American partner. That partner will either start out in control or eventually manipulate things to take control.
If most of the things you grow or manufacture are designed to be exported to your former colonial master, they control the pricing and they control how fast or whether your nation will grow. You challenge the system and you may be faced with a group of well-financed rebels firing mortar rounds into the presidential palace.
The situation in Africa is more complex than we make it in the West, and if we keep fudging on the truth, millions of people will die while we blame the Africans. Yes, there is corruption and many of these leaders need to be run out of office. But the people never put many of them there in the first place, and that point is often overlooked.
Africa is in a crisis and we need stable and informed government to fight epidemics such as AIDS. This constant destabilization process created by foreign governments and corporations and corrupted African leaders is making it impossible to get the job done. The millions of people a day dying from AIDS is one of the greatest tragedies in human history, and all we seem to be doing is blaming the people who are dying.
Charlie James' is publisher of the African-American Business & Employment Journal and can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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