Oil and terrorism brings Bush to Africa

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United States President George W. Bush was delayed for nearly four hours in Pretoria by groups of anti-American protesters. In Cape Town, about 1,500 people braved the cold to voice their opposition to his visit to South Africa. Some 200 supporters of the African National Congress and its tri-partite alliance partners were among those expressing dissatisfaction at US policies. These were the scenes that greeted George W. Bush on his recent visit to South Africa é part of a whistle-stop safari through Africa, including Senegal, Uganda, Botswana, Nigeria.

Bush’s tour, only the second by an American president, had already gotten off to a rocky start before he had even left American soil. A week before Air force One touched down in Pretoria, the United States regime announced that it was withdrawing military aid to South Africa as a result of the country’s refusal to grant Americans immunity from prosecution by the new International Criminal Court in The Hague.  Africa’s most respected statesman, Nelson Mandela refused to meet with Bush, whom he called “a president that has no foresight, who cannot think properly, [and] is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust.”

Bush should also have forgiven farmers on the continent for not rolling out the red carpet for him. The implementation of the most generous subsidy scheme for American farmers in US history, has all but killed off the agricultural sector on the continent, and undercut African trade. 

The official line on the US presidential visit to Africa was that it is aimed at strengthening diplomatic relations and furthering the development agenda of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad).

However, sceptics argue that Bush’s visit was necessary to ensure that American imperialist aims on the continent were maintained and strengthened, central of which are oil and terrorism.

In search of black gold

The US today imports more oil from Africa than it does from Saudi Arabia. The Bush administration has called for a major diversification of American oil supplies away from the politically volatile Persian Gulf to “friendlier” Sub-Saharan Africa. The African share from the US oil supply is projected to rise from the current 15% to as high as 25% over the next decade. This makes West and Central Africa  strategically important to American interests.

Countries that house America’s oil supplies are generally excused from answering questions about its internal politics and human rights abuses. Recent electoral irregularities and accusations of rigging were not on the agenda when Bush met Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. Bush also did not discuss how petro-dollars have not helped, but exacerbated poverty in Nigeria.

South Africa: America’s policeman   

With unconfirmed reports alleging that Al-Qaeda is using Africa as a major operational and logistics site, one of the major purposes of Bush’s tour was to promote intelligence co-operation. South Africa may not have oil, but it has probably the best army and intelligence services in Africa. Bush reiterated his stance on terror during discussions with President Mbeki, with the American regime looking to boost South Africa’s role in the intelligence war against Al-Qaeda throughout the region.

The South African government has already indicated that it is willing to sacrifice hard-fought civil liberties in an effort to further entrench American imperialism here. Moves to introduce repressive anti-terrorism legislation in the country in the form of the Anti-Terrorism Bill have been opposed by human rights and civic bodies, but the government seems adamant that South Africa will become America’s latest client state on security matters, with the potential to become America’s policeman on the African continent.  

The Aids pandemic

While in South Africa, Bush waxed lyrical about a long-term programme Aids prevention programme worth $15 billion. What Bush forgot to mention was that the House of Representatives voted 78 to 18 against allocating $3 billion of the money to Africa next year. Less than half that amount will be coming here.  Bush also failed to mention what the terms of the agreement was in relation to the Aids money.

Perhaps the American president should have mentioned that it was at the behest of its powerful domestic pharmaceutical industry, that the US government had foiled a deal designed to make much-needed medicines available in poor countries. This action flies in the face of a commitment made by wealthier countries at the WTO meeting in 2001 to make the addressing of public health problems in developing countries a key priority.  When discussing the Aids issue in South Africa, Thabo Mbeki stressed the importance of preventative measures, such as education and awareness campaigns. Bush’s focus was entirely on the provision of anti-retroviral drugs. This has lead some Aids campaigners to ask exactly how much pharmaceutical companies are making from the Aids pandemic in Africa?

While the South African government lauded Bush’s visit, and hailed it as a success, most analysts question the sincerity of Bush’s interest in Africa. According to Firoz Osman of the Media Review Network, Bush is merely seeking to extend America’s sphere of influence. “For Africa to play along with Washington it may be signing its own epitaph. In the end it will be subsumed – politically and economically – within the diabolical ruling system of this global power.” Osman said.

Ms. Suraya Dadoo is a researcher with the Media Review Network, which is an advocacy group based in Pretoria, South Africa.

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