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29.09.2002 Feature Article

The Hands That Sometimes Feeds Us.

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I recently read an article detailing how the United States hopes to turn to Africa for resources such as oil. This announcement, the best compliment ever paid the continent by a super-rich nation able to afford any of its services and resources, also sent shivers down my spine. I know upon hearing this good news, most African leaders, especially those with the goods that the United States desperately needs and for that matter is willing to take a second pampering look at Africa, are staring at yet another perfect, lucrative opportunity to drain the continent off its rich resources whiles cleaning its coffers off proceeds from the trades. I can just imagine one of our corrupt, money-greedy dictators contentedly standing in front of a rickety mirror patting his already swollen belly just thinking about all the money they can pilfer into foreign accounts from the proceeds of transactions between their country and the United States. I can imagine the further turmoil Africa would be pushed into, with its leaders embroiled in a struggle for power to rule, to be able to trade and be able to steal. Who has ever really cared about Africa anyway? Certainly not the Western developed nations and most definitely not the African with pen in hand ever willing and ready to sign off any resource, human and material on the continent, without foreseeing the consequences on his own people. But before I blame us Africans, let me offer the excuse that we have always been a selfish bunch. So I will go on and plead with the well-meaning and generous Americans first. Americans who own a gazillion charities on the continent may understand that trade with the continent without stable, transparent, democratic governments firmly in place and in operation, may actually harm the continent than help it. Perhaps what I say now will also spare American lives and efforts in the future, to stop all funding entering the continent like it plugged all sources of revenue that funded terrorism, political strife and wars in Afghanistan. For my first exhibit, I present the country of Congo in Central Africa. For decades there has been so much civil and political unrest and bloodshed from the trade of the country’s natural resources such as diamond and oil. On one hand, you have consumers in rich, developed countries who purchase the resources of Congo and who in the process enrich and empower unstable dictatorial and corrupt governments, who in turn complete this cycle by impoverishing, oppressing and terrorizing the hardworking citizens of that nation. My second exhibit is the nation of Nigeria in West Africa. Underneath the glittering sometimes-hopeful lights and highways of its major cities constructed from the oil Nigeria produces is widespread corruption and murder of its own citizens from the trade. And who funded all the over one billion dollars found nesting in ex-President Abacha’s foreign account everywhere abroad but in his own country? Did the nations which encouraged this grand thievery and prospered from the schemes of this corrupt and selfish man also aware that in the end they will have to meet somewhere in the quiet mountains of Canada to think over how best they can help Africa prosper? I can visit each African country and tell a familiar tale of how lack breeds greed and corruption and the fittest among us devours the weakest in the link with the help of the world’s richest nations who thought they were lending a helping hand. I am very sure that the United States, given the benefit of the doubt, has all good intentions to bolster the living standards or economy of these oil-producing African countries through trade, but it also has to know that by trading with such governments, it equips them with the ammunition to hurt its own people. I am fully aware of the privileges and level of protection enjoyed by most Americans because I live here in the United States. The United States has always looked out for the best interest of its citizens, but it must not assume that this is also the case for the governments of African nations. That after a rich nation such as the United States, able to provide the basics of life, such as food, clothing, shelter, healthcare and education for its citizens of all fifty-one states and then for the rest of the world, trades with a single country on the continent, half if not most of the proceeds go into the accounts of corrupt and dictatorial leaders and not towards the general welfare of that country’s citizens. It is like the resources belonging to the people go to benefit an individual or group of individuals just because they wield power. It is the same case as in Afghanistan, when rich countries with insatiable appetites turned a blind eye to activities of the Taliban regime who when empowered and enriched by the sale of opium on world markets, began to oppress and terrorize humans home and abroad. As far back as I have been interested in African affairs, African countries from Angola to Zambia all have each had a story of coup d’etats. The continent has long had a long rap sheet of political and civil unrest instigated by individuals or groups who have compulsive desires, similar to the destructive behavior of a kleptomaniac, to dominate by force and steal from the continent to better themselves above all else. I was hoping then that prudent United States, which loves democracy, a government of, for and by the people, will implement or make sure a government with similar constitutions and values or beliefs be a prerequisite for any nation it decides to trade with, regardless of how desperate it needs that nation’s resource to support its own citizens. If the United States will not trade with Cuba perched on its southern border, to discourage Socialist and dictatorial governments, it must at the same token not trade with any unstable, dictatorial and corrupt regime in Africa. But the solution is not that simple as stated here. Africa needs the proceeds from business with the United States just as much as the United States needs Africa’s resources such as oil. The United States, just as it has helped Africa as much as it can in the past and in the present, can help it further by making democracy a pre-requisite to trade with any African nation. It must actually firmly plant the idea of democracy through trade laws than have to enforce embargos and physically remove governments like it did in Afghanistan, in the future. This method is efficient, enriches and empowers lives and livelihoods than fatten the pockets of a selfish few whom under guise claim to represent the citizens of an African country as deemed by the United States. I plead with the United States that before they even begin to think trade on a large scale with any African nation, they also make it their duty to ensure that the road on which they travel to obtain the resources they need is paved with democracy and transparency. It is imperative that the wealth created from trade with any African nation is accounted for in the provision of basic needs such as food, health, shelter and education for the citizens of that nation. Even if it means the United States finding and installing a selfless, forward-thinking, democratic leader for the country before it trades with it. To my fellow Africans, I will simply say that we cannot imitate the proverbial goat that defecated and smeared it on someone else’s wall thinking he was doing that person a disservice and forgetting he was smearing his own behind. “Eye yen ara ya sase ni.”

Ruth Peprah
Ruth Peprah, © 2002

The author has 9 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: RuthPeprah

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