It was an august assembly of policy makers, TV pundits, acclaimed university professors, and seasoned journalists. In a nutshell, the assembly represented the movers and shakers of the American foreign policy establishment. Of course, I am speaking of the grandiose gathering at the National Press Club here in Washington last December, to map out a "Grand U.S. Strategy Towards Nation-Building And The Amelioration Of Poverty In The Third World", in the post-September 11, 2001 world.
I was intrigued by the theme of the conference since president Bush had decried former president Clinton's ‘policy' of using American resources to foster ‘nation-building' in Bosnia and elsewhere, during the American presidential elections. Could it be that Bush's change of heart portended a more aggressive and supportive policy towards Africa. Hence, I decided that attending the meeting was worth my time.
However, without an invitation (it was an invitation-only event), my only choice was to gate-crash. Which I succeeded in doing rather easily despite the post-September 11 security-conscious official Washington restrictions! My entry was smoothen by my being clad in a colourful Kente cloth, and a huge banner with the inscription "Official African Press" securely placed on my chest.
I was surprised to meet my good friend Dr. Shimpupu wa Kasabubu, the Congolese, at the meeting. He whispered to me that he had been invited by a Republican Party lobbyist with vast business interest in the Congo! He was the sole African present!! Whenever I meet Kasabubu, he whines about his identity crisis; being that his nationality has changed from Congolese, to Zairean, and now back to Congolese!!! My usual attempt to soothe his depression by reminding him that citizens of St. Petersburg in Russia have undergone similar crisis, and are coping well; failed to enliven Kasabubu.
Another trait of my friend Kasabubu is worth mentioning. Like my other (non-Ghanaian) African friends, Dr. Kasabubu has a tendency to shout "Ashanti Kotoko" whenever our paths crossed. He insists that, this peculiar practice recalls the pleasant memories he harbours for the Ghana football club by that name, which in the 1970's rode roughshod over other African teams including that of Zaire, err Congo! But I digress!!
Dr. Kasabubu castigated me for wearing my Kente with my chest partially uncovered, and thereby exposing myself to the elements in the extremely cold weather. I explained to him that these days, it seems the only way Africa could be noticed is for her to do something profound against herself. To wit: I could not have gained entry without the apparition I cut. He laughed at my cantankerousness!
It was only after I enquired from my friend, that I learnt the meeting had just ended. Again, my insistence on operating on "African time", in these parts had proven rather untimely.
As luck would have it, I recognized one American journalist who is never shy of the TV camera. My ‘African Press' badge had afforded me an interview which would otherwise have been beyond my reach. The American journalist provided an exhaustive recount of what had transpired at the meeting. He concluded with a stunning revelation: "The U.S. government had earmarked $100 billion to fight poverty, and promote nation-building in the Third World". Upon hearing that, the English language failed me in providing a word to express my joy. After all, there is no part of the world more in need of the lofty goals of poverty alleviation and nation-building than Africa; and yet lack the resources to accomplish the task.
Moreover, each African country stood to get at least $1 billion free, with no strings attached. Since the majority of "poor and destitute" nations are to be found in Africa, and since there could be no more than 100 such countries in the Third World, my calculations were not that exaggerated. In my enthusiasm, I yelled in my native Ghanaian language, "Ye' ka awu"! That yell, attracted quite a crowd who thought I had uttered unprintable cuss words. I bravely explained that the phrase was my way of expressing gratitude to the USA for providing money for the development of Africa. My acclamation merely meant that Africa's debt burden may be over. Let the good times roll for Africa!
The silence that greeted my explanation was axiomatic. It was broken only by a sudden unrestrained laughter by the assembled crowd; at the end of which one of their number volunteered: "Africa"! Did you say "Africa"!! Before I could respond, another cut in, "Nobody spoke about African relief at the meeting"! As if to deliver the final blow, another opined; "Africa was not even on the agenda; Africa will not receive a dime from the $100 billion fund It was all about Afghanistan and the ‘war on terrorism'". My temporary joy quickly turned to anguish.
Kasabubu and I, protested vehemently against this obvious marginalization of Africa. We cited credible United Nations studies and statistics confirming Africa's preeminent position as a continent of rather "poor nations" in dire need of redress. Our arguments seemed to fall on deaf ears. The august assembly of the American foreign policy establishment, meeting to dish out money for poor countries, had decided to bypass Africa. Africa was not important in their strategic calculation, and no amount of pleading would sway them from that conclusion.
Finally, infuriated by our clever, though unconvincing arguments, one participant delivered this coup de grace: "Listen up, Africans; Osama bin Laden stole your Christmas"! Not understanding the import of the statement, my friend Dr. Kasabubu called his American friend who had invited him to the meeting to seek further clarification. But the guy had left the meeting without even informing his African ‘friend!
Thankfully, I needed no such epiphany to confirm my understanding of Africa's real marginalization in the post-September 11 world. Indeed, Osama bin Laden's attack against America, and the subsequent ‘war on terrorism' have sidetracked African interests and African concerns, internationally. What Africa policy president Bush began to carve has been lost in the caves of Afghanistan. These days all roads lead to Kabul.
Contrary to his campaign sloganeering that "African was of no strategic importance" to the USA, and therefore would not merit much attention in his administration, president Bush had indeed began to carve out an African policy that would be beneficial to our interest. In the early months of his administration, president Bush hosted the presidents of Senegal, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, and South Africa to underscore his newly found concern for the problems faced by Africa, and the need for the USA to play a leading role in helping to ameliorate African problems. Both his Secretary of State, and the head of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) visited Africa to assess what assistance the USA might offer. The fledgling policy has now been shattered by Osama bin Laden's terrorists attacks on the USA, and the response thereof.
That is what the aforementioned conference participant's statement that bin Laden "stole Africa's Christmas" sought to convey to my friend Dr. Kasabubu. Osama bin Laden's terrorist course, has destroyed Africa's cause on the international stage.
To wit: The administrator of USAID announced the other day that, Afghanistan is his agency's main priority for the disbursement of USAID funds for the foreseeable future. American Congressmen, Senators, and members of Cabinet; are now trooping to Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan (well, you catch my drift!), to assess American development aid, and support for the ‘war on terrorism'. It is a quid pro quo arrangement that leaves Africa in the cold.
The European Union has pitched a tent in Kabul. British Prime Miniser Tony Blair has traversed those parts. Japan will be hosting a conference in Tokyo to coordinate international assistance to Afghanistan and her neighbours. All in an effort to aid the "war on terrorism". So far, the only African country that has been mentioned in the equation is Somalia. And that is nothing to write home about! Alas, poor disintegrated Somalia is merely being mentioned as a possible target for US war planes and "smart bombs".
Osama bin Laden chose Africa (Kenya and Tanzania), to commit his dastardly acts aimed at America. I have wondered interminably why he could not have chosen an Arab country. Does he value African lives less? By concentrating US and international aid money towards the ‘war on terrorism', the toll on Africa as a result of bin Laden having "stolen Africa's Christmas" may be incalculable.
Meanwhile, my friend Dr. Shimpupu wa Kasabubu remained disconsolate and unconsolable. His American friend had abandoned him. Kasabubu lamented thus: With the world seemingly abandoning Africa, what future presages Africa? To soothe Kasabubu's despondency, I suggested certain steps Africa could undertake to assist herself: Africa should lay more emphasis on putting her house in order; make judicious use of her available resources; and that Africa's ruling elite ought to stop looting national coffers and depositing the money in international banks from where it is recycled as loans to Africa! "Indeed", I said; "expecting endless handouts from outsiders is the surest way to our doom". That did not convince Kasabubu either. Nor was Kasabubu comforted with this quotation I cited from the Bible, it is written; "It is more blessed to give than to receive"! The unceremonious departure of his American friend had left him in a trance!!
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