PRESIDENT GEORGE W. Bush needs nine of 15 votes in the United Nations Security Council to get its blessing for a war on Iraq. Only Britain, Spain, and Bulgaria are clear yes votes. France, Germany, China, Russia, and Syria all oppose the war. Among the six undecided nations are Cameroon, Angola, and Guinea.
Lately, Bush has treated those African countries as if they were major powers. All three nations previously said they were opposed to the war. But Walter Kansteiner, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, visited all three nations last month in the belief that they could be convinced to change their mind.
Guinea, a nation of 7.7 million people, is so poor that citizens in the capital, Conkary, enjoy electricity for only 12 hours every four days. The average Guinean lives only into his or her mid-40s. The nation has taken over the chairmanship of the Security Council just as President Lansana Conte is dying of kidney disease.
France has been a significant aid donor, but Guinea's biggest commercial partner is the United States. The people are dirt poor, but Guinea's dirt has enriched the world's aluminum interests, including Alcoa. Guinea is the world's second biggest producer of bauxite. In recent years, discoveries of oil have caught the attention of American petroleum interests.
About the only things most Americans know Cameroon for is soccer every four years and former tennis star Yannick Noah. But it sits on some oil to go along with its coffee and cocoa exports. The United States once helped tear apart Angola by supporting apartheid South Africa's aggressions against it. Today Angola is considered a sleeping economic giant. It is sub-Saharan Africa's second-largest producer of oil after Nigeria and has untold oil offshore. Angola is a key reason that African oil could comprise 25 percent of the oil imported by the United States by 2015. But the nation remains too crippled from its civil war to extract it.
The political needs of Bush and the economic needs of these countries have resulted in a dance that is maddening to some bombs-away commentators. A Washington Post columnist wrote that ''the absurdity of the exercise mirrors the absurdity of the United Nations itself.'' A Wall Street Journal editorial fretted about ''the cost to President Bush's own political standing and credibility as he lets the world's pygmies tie him down like Gulliver.'' A columnist at The Financial Times asked why the United States ''should be hogtied by a bunch of Lilliputians.''
In other words, the bombs-away crowd has no interest in democracy in the United Nations. Bush and the British thought this would be over after a couple of quick phone calls and a little cash. The British have already dumped a reported $6 million in aid for refugees in the lap of Guinea. Yet Guinea, after earlier reports that it had hopped aboard the Bomb Express, jumped off. Cameroon and Angola have not budged.
What is fascinating is that surely the African countries know that the United States is capable of punishment if they do not vote for the war. The first President Bush stripped Yemen of American aid after Yemen voted against the Gulf War. But other forces could be at work here. It could be as crass as that the African nations are simply holding out for the best economic deal before folding.
It could also be because even as Bush has promised $15 billion in aid to fight AIDS in Africa, the fine print is coming out that such aid may be withheld from health clinics where abortion is discussed. It could also be that African nations have been so burned from European colonialism, American economic exploitation, and the Cold War that they want to be very careful about signing onto someone else's war, one that, if it is draining enough to the American economy, will ironically provide an excuse for the United States to limit or renege on aid and technology to Africa.
The leaders in these nations are hardly democratic darlings. They are beset with plenty of human rights problems. But they are also tired of being puppets of either the United States or Europe. These leaders, still belittled as pygmies by a major newspaper in 2003, want to know why the United States wants to use them to wage war in Iraq, because that will represent yet one more time that Americans have flown right over their disease, poverty, and genocide.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company