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E-Letter To and Horace G. Campbell Re: The Democratic Party And Africa

Your opinion piece, The Democratic Party And Africa provides a very good introduction into one of the least discussed issues inside of the Black Community. In a question that subject is: What is the proper relationship between Africa and the United States? I especially thought your op-ed was written with great timing, on the eve of President Clinton's trip to Africa. For all of the talk of support for Black Nationalism and Pan Africanism among the Black electorate over the last 70 years, the subject you raise has not been adequately addressed by Black intellectuals, educators, and religious leaders and because of that, Black political leaders have never been forced to advocate a coherent agenda to the American political establishment that clearly defines the parameters of a U.S.-Africa relationship.

I have always found this to be in stark contrast with the impressive job that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) performs on behalf of the relationship between Israel and America. If you ask anybody affiliated with AIPAC they will tell you that their sole purpose is to affect how America relates toward Israel. Nothing more, nothing less. And because of that single-mindedness of purpose and that clear focus, AIPAC, more than any other interest group or lobby, influences U.S. foreign policy in a manner that it feels is in the best interest of Israel and the strategic partnership between Israel and America.

Now, of course, Africa is much larger than Israel and is made up of 54 countries which cannot all be considered the same but that does not mean that an agenda along the lines of common principles, values and scenarios cannot be crafted which would effectively serve the interests of the entire continent as well as Blacks in America and America as a whole.

For example, I have argued that because every African nation gets a disproportionate amount of its wealth from the earth, the continent could form an economic and monetary union, in some respects, more easily than Europe could. In fact, the OAU currently is advancing such an initiative, popularly referred to as "The United States of Africa". An important question in the lens of U.S. - Africa relations and one that should be posed to the Democratic Party, by Black Democrats, would be how would an African common market and monetary union affect the relationship between the U.S. and Africa?

Your piece does a very good job of pointing out how the United States does not apply the same standard to all nations and how this negatively impacts Africa. You demonstrate the manner in which the United States turned the other way in the face of atrocities in Rwanda when it did not do the same in Yugoslavia. Many people inside and outside of the Black community made a similar argument when the United States began to bomb Serbia. And I even remember NSC head Sandy Berger, in response to some of these arguments, say that United States interests were not equally distributed around the world and that the events in Bosnia and Serbia were more important to United States interests than events in Rwanda. At least he was honest.

What has distressed me the most in the talk of US - Africa relationships is that quite often, it appears to me, that Blacks want to have it both ways. We complain about U.S. imperialism and European colonialism and then say that the U.S. isn't doing enough in the region. We talk about the role the CIA had in destabilizing the continent and complain about the U.S. intervention in Somalia and her recent decision to provide military training to an African "peacekeeping" force but then we argue the U.S. should have intervened militarily in Rwanda. We complain about England's role in the devastation on the continent and on the impact that she has had on the unequal distribution of wealth on the continent and then we beg her to not leave Sierra Leone, as if British troops are the only ones capable of making peace between two Black warring factions.

To me, there appears to exist the lack of a principle-centered approach in our critique of the US - Africa relationship. This contributes to the lack of clarity in determining whether the United States is a legitimate friend or foe of the continent. And until the principles and values are worked out, by Blacks in this country and in Africa, I am not sure how realistic it is to expect the Democratic Party to get it right.

And then there are the various crises on the continent. We have a horrendous AIDS problem, food and fuel shortages, natural disasters, rampant inflation and civil wars. Is America obligated to help Africa in these scenarios? Is the proper relationship between Africa and the U.S. that Africa ask for help and the U.S. provide it?

What about Africans helping Africans? Is that not an obligation as well? Isn't that something that Black Democrats in this country should be championing?

And certainly no one is forcing Africa to agree to IMF, World Bank and WTO conditions that are not in the best interests of African countries.

I was fascinated to learn over the weekend that South African hospitals wouldn't accept payment for medical expenses incurred by Zimbabwe citizens with Zimbabwe medical plans unless those payments were in cash and up front because of Zimbabwe's currency crisis. I see the same phenomenon in country after country in Africa: so many problems yet so little unity, so little compassion between the countries themselves. At a certain point isn't it reasonable when some in the U.S. government say: "You have so many resources over there - human and otherwise, why can't you all unite and do more to solve your own problems?" And if African nations believe in receiving aid, charity and help from America why don't they expect the same from one another?

Your piece is entitled "The Democratic Party and Africa" and does a good job pointing out where the U.S. has not helped Africa and where the Democratic Party has been silent. But how much responsibility for that must rests not on the U.S. and the Democratic Party but squarely on the shoulders of Black Democratic leaders and the Black electorate inside of America, who vote almost 90% Democratic?

Your piece makes a great point about how Africa received only lip-service at the Democratic Party convention (and none at the Republican). But isn't that a sign of the failure of the Congressional Black Caucus, Black Civil Rights leaders and the Black delegates who were all in L.A. at the Democratic Party Convention? Isn't that an indication of the failure of the most loyal Democratic Party constituency - Blacks?

Having said that, take a look at the section of the Democratic Platform dealing with Israel. Israel receives more coverage and attention in the Democrat's 2000 platform than all 54 countries in Africa received and maybe more than Africa has received in all of the previous Democratic Party platforms combined. And why? Because the parameters of the U.S. - Israel relationship are very clearly defined by AIPAC and they are communicated to America's political establishment and supported by the American Jewish community, even though they do not make up a tremendous bloc of voters, in terms of numbers. And Democratic and Republican members of the U.S. Congress both defer to AIPAC on matters pertaining to the strategic relationship between the U.S. and Israel. Couldn't the same thing occur in regards to Africa?

Your analysis of the problem is very valuable and informative but I wonder if the real problem in U.S. -Africa relations is not the U.S. and the larger Democratic Party but rather the priority that Africa receives in the hearts of Blacks themselves.


Cedric Muhammad

Wednesday, August 23, 2000

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