Barack Obama’s three misdeeds in Africa

21 July 2009 by CADTM

The authors are: Emilie Tamadaho Atchaca (Benin), Solange Koné (Ivory Coast), Jean Victor
Lemvo (Congo Brazzaville), Damien Millet (France), Luc Mukendi and Victor
Nzuzi (Congo Kinshasa), Sophie Perchellet (France), Aminata Barry Touré
(Mali), Eric Toussaint (Belgium), Ibrahim Yacouba (Niger), all members of
CADTM <>  [1.]

After the G8 G8 Group composed of the most powerful countries of the planet: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the USA, with Russia a full member since June 2002. Their heads of state meet annually, usually in June or July. summit in Italy, US President Barack Obama flew off to Africa
with a so-called gift: an envelope of 20 billion dollars to distribute over
3 years, so that “generous” donors in the rich countries could “help” reduce
world hunger. While the promise to eradicate hunger has been made on a
regular basis since 1970, the United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organisation (FAO) published a report last month indicating that the number
of undernourished people has passed the one billion point, that is 100
million more over the past year. At the same time, the United Nations World
Food Programme (WFP) sounded the alarm bell and announced that it had to cut
rations distributed in Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, North Korea and Kenya
(Obama’s paternal family’s home country), principally due to the reduction
in contributions from the US, its main donor [2.].

Beyond the effect of President Obama’s announcement, the latest in a long
list of good intentions that have done nothing to improve the current
situation, it is worth recalling that the 20 billion dollar aid figure over
3 years amounts to less than 2% of the sums the US spent in 2008-2009 to
save the bankers and insurers responsible for the crisis.

After extending a hand to the “Muslim friends” in his Cairo speech (while
continuing to destabilise the Middle East region behind the scenes), after a
hand held out to the “Russian friends” (while maintaining his stance on the
Eastern European anti-missile shield), now Obama is extending a hand to the
“African friends” (while keeping his neocolonial cap firmly atop his head).

When Obama lets the rich countries off the hook

Obama’s long address in Accra, Ghana, follows up on a series of meetings
with his counterparts abroad. Under the pretext of setting new bases for US
relations with the rest of the world, once again Obama has excelled in the
art of advocating openness and change, while continuing to implement his
forerunners’ disastrous policies [3.].

From the outset, he stated that it was “up to Africans to determine Africa’s
future”. And yet, while everyone can agree with this statement that makes
perfect sense on the face of it, in reality this is not always put into
practice, and the G8 countries over the past half-century have played a key
role in depriving African peoples of their sovereignty. Obama doesn’t fail
to remind us “I have the blood of Africa within me”, as if this
automatically provided more strength and legitimacy to his message. In any
case the message was clearly conveyed: the colonialism their ancestors were
victims of should no longer provide excuses for Africans. This is very
similar to the speech French President Nicolas Sarkozy pronounced in Dakar a
few months after his election. But Sarkozy’s speech sparked a wave of
well-deserved protest, and so far Obama has miraculously averted such a
response… But now we will do what it takes to end this injustice!

Straight off, Obama let the Western world off the hook for the current state
of the African continent’s development. Declaring, “development depends upon
good governance” and “that is a responsibility that can only be met by
Africans” [4.], he starts out from the false observation that the poverty
plaguing Africa is primarily due to poor governance or the free choices of
African leaders. In short, it is Africans’ fault. Nothing could be farther
from the truth!

With affirmations such as “the West is not responsible for the destruction
of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children
are enlisted as combatants” [5.], President Obama is downplaying the rich
countries’ central role in the course Africa has taken. And in particular
the role of the major international financial institutions, starting from
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.
and the World Bank World Bank
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

, which are powerful instruments of the great powers’
domination organizing the subjection of the peoples of the South. This is
done via structural adjustment Structural Adjustment Economic policies imposed by the IMF in exchange of new loans or the rescheduling of old loans.

Structural Adjustments policies were enforced in the early 1980 to qualify countries for new loans or for debt rescheduling by the IMF and the World Bank. The requested kind of adjustment aims at ensuring that the country can again service its external debt. Structural adjustment usually combines the following elements : devaluation of the national currency (in order to bring down the prices of exported goods and attract strong currencies), rise in interest rates (in order to attract international capital), reduction of public expenditure (’streamlining’ of public services staff, reduction of budgets devoted to education and the health sector, etc.), massive privatisations, reduction of public subsidies to some companies or products, freezing of salaries (to avoid inflation as a consequence of deflation). These SAPs have not only substantially contributed to higher and higher levels of indebtedness in the affected countries ; they have simultaneously led to higher prices (because of a high VAT rate and of the free market prices) and to a dramatic fall in the income of local populations (as a consequence of rising unemployment and of the dismantling of public services, among other factors).

policies (end to subsidies for staple goods,
drastic cuts in public spending, privatisation of public companies, market
liberalization, etc.) that make it impossible to meet basic needs, spread
deep poverty at breakneck speed, increase inequalities and make the worst
horrors possible.

When Obama compares incomparable situations

To back up his statements, Obama compared Africa to South Korea. Firstly, he
explained that fifty years ago, “when my father travelled to the United
States from Kenya to study, at that time the per capita income and Gross
Domestic Product of Kenya was higher than South Korea’s”, before he added:
“There had been some talk about the legacies of colonialism and other
policies by wealthier nations, and without in any way diminishing that
history, the point I made was that the South Korean government, working with
the private sector and civil society, was able to create a set of
institutions that provided transparency and accountability [6.]. Regular and
attentive readers of CADTM publications choked on that one!

This is because South Korea’s supposed economic success [7.] came about
despite the recommendations imposed by the World Bank on most other
developing countries. After the Second World War and up until 1961, the
military dictatorship in power in South Korea benefited from significant
donations from the United States, totalling the sum of 3.1 billion dollars.
This is more than all World Bank loans to the other Third-World countries
during the same period! Thanks to these donations, South Korea did not have
to go into debt for 17 years (1945-1961). External borrowing only became
significant from the end of the 1970s, once Korea’s industrialisation was
well under way.

So everything started out in Korea through an iron-fisted dictatorship that
implemented a statist and highly protectionist policy. Washington set up
this dictatorship in the wake of the Second World War. The State imposed a
radical agrarian reform under which big Japanese landowners were
expropriated without compensation. The peasants took on ownership of small
plots of land (equivalent to up to 3 hectares per family) and the State
expropriated the surplus crops, formerly pocketed by Japanese landowners
when Korea was a Nippon colony. The land reform set stringent restrictions
on the peasantry. The State set prices and production quotas, not allowing
for the free play of market forces.

From 1961 to 1979, the World Bank backed Park Chung Hee’s military
dictatorship although Korea refused to follow the Bank’s development model.
At the time, the state was planning the country’s economic development with
an iron fist. Continuing to implement a policy of industrialisation by
substitution for imports and the overexploitation of the working class were
two ingredients in the country’s economic success. The World Bank did back
Chun Doo Whan’s dictatorship (1980-1987) although the Bank’s recommendations
were not always followed (particularly in terms of restructuring the
automotive sector).

Thus when Obama declared, “the South Korean government, working with the
private sector and civil society, was able to create a set of institutions
that provided transparency and accountability”[<8>. ] he failed to mention that
the private sector was clearly guided by the State and the Korean
dictatorship “dialogued” with civil society by guns and cannons. The history
of South Korea from 1945 until the early 1980s was marked by massacres and
brutal repression.

It is also important to refresh Barack Obama’s memory as he refers to the
Zimbabwean example to illustrate Africans’ failure and comparing it to the
South Korean model. The year Zimbabwe achieved independence (1980) was
marked by popular uprisings against the South Korean military dictatorship.
These were crushed in blood; more than 500 civilians were killed by the
military with Washington’s backing [9.]
. At this time, and since 1945, the
South Korean armed forces were put under a joint US-Korean command, itself
under the control of the commander-in-chief of United States forces in South
Korea. The massacres perpetrated by the South Korean army in May 1980 were
completed by a massive repression in the following months. According to an
official report dated 9 February 1981, over 57,000 people were arrested
during the “Social Purification Campaign” underway since the summer of 1980.
Almost 39,000 of these people were sent to military camps for “physical and
psychological re-education”. In February 1981, the dictator Chun Doo Hwan
was received at the White House by the new United States President, Ronald
Reagan. Is this the example Obama wants to offer to the people of Zimbabwe
and other African countries?

Korea’s geostrategic position was one of its major assets until the end of
the 1980s, enabling it to avert IMF and World Bank control. But in the
1990s, the entire geopolitical situation was in disarray following the
collapse of the Soviet bloc. Washington’s attitude towards allied
dictatorships shifted gradually, accepting to support civil governments.
Between 1945 and 1992, South Korea lived under a military regime with
Washington’s blessing. The first civil opponent elected to the presidency in
an open election was Kim Youngsam, who accepted the Washington Consensus and
implemented a clearly neoliberal agenda (elimination of tariff barriers,
multiple privatisations, liberalization of capital movements), plunging
South Korea into the 1997-1998 South-East Asian economic crisis. In the
meantime, South Korea was able to achieve an industrialisation the rich
countries refused in Africa’s case. We can thereby understand to what extent
the South Korean model is unconvincing and can’t be reproduced everywhere.

Moreover, South Korea’s relative lack of natural resources paradoxically
favoured its development because the country avoided transnational
corporations’ resource lust. The United States viewed Korea as a strategic
zone from a military standpoint, facing the USSR bloc, not as crucial
sources of supplies (as were Nigeria, Angola and Congo-Kinshasa). If Korea
had major reserves of oil or other strategic raw materials, Washington would
not have allowed it the same elbowroom to develop a powerful industrial
complex. The United States are not prepared to deliberately foster the
emergence of powerful competitors with both major natural reserves and
diversified industries.

When Obama pardons capitalism for its misdeeds

As for the current economic crisis, Obama spoke out against the
irresponsible risk-taking of a few, sparking a recession that has swept the
world. Thus, he conveys the impression that this crisis was caused by the
irresponsibility of a handful of individuals whose excesses plunged the
world into recession. This analysis eclipses the responsibility of those who
have imposed financial deregulation for almost thirty years, above all the
United States. It would be more precise to underline the productivist
capitalist development model, painfully imposed by the countries of the
North, as the source of the many crises underway. These are not merely
economic crises, but also food, migratory, social, environmental and climate

All these crises originate with decisions made by imperialist governments in
the North, and above all the United States government which controls both
the IMF and World Bank, so it can impose conditionalities favourable to its
interests and those of its major firms. Since the early 1960s, when most
African countries achieved “independence”, IMF and the World Bank have been
a kind of Trojan horse to promote the appropriation of natural resources and
defend creditors’ interests. By supporting dictatorships in many corners of
the world, (Mobutu in Zaire, Suharto in Indonesia, Pinochet in Chile and so
many others), then by forcing the implementation of harsh antisocial
policies, successive Western governments have never allowed for the
guarantee of basic human rights throughout the world. Expressions such as
“right to self-determination”, “democracy”, “economic and political rights”
are not realities in Africa, contrary to the crushing weight of debt
repayments and the pleas of the starving.

When will African emancipation come?

Africa was broken by the devastating slave trade system in the context of
the triangular international trade established by Europe and its settlers in
the Americas from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Then it was held in
trusteeship by European colonialism from the end of the 19th century until
independence. Thereafter, Africa has been held in dependency through the
mechanism of the debt and public development aid. After African countries
achieved independence, they were handed over to potentates (Mobutu, Bongo,
Eyadema, Amin Dada, Bokassa, Biya…) most of whom were protected by the
European capitals and by Washington. Several important African leaders who
sought autonomous development that would promote their peoples were
assassinated on the orders of Paris, Brussels, London or Washington (Patrice
Lumumba in 1961, Sylvanus Olympio in 1963, Thomas Sankara in 1987…). The
African ruling classes and the political regimes they established have a
very clear share Share A unit of ownership interest in a corporation or financial asset, representing one part of the total capital stock. Its owner (a shareholder) is entitled to receive an equal distribution of any profits distributed (a dividend) and to attend shareholder meetings. in the responsibility for Africa’s litany of misfortunes.
Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe is one of these. Today, the peoples of
Africa are directly affected by the effects of the world crisis whose
epicentre is in Washington and Wall Street, revealing that capitalism is up
against an impasse unacceptable for peoples. Barack Obama’s African origins
are a godsend for businesses in his country defending very specific economic
interests in the exploitation of Africa’s resources. This is a reality that
Obama sweeps away with the back of his hand, as he continues a paternalistic
and moralising path in order to convince Africans not to undertake the
struggle for meaningful independence and real development, finally
guaranteeing the full satisfaction of human needs.

Emilie Tamadaho Atchaca is president of CADD Benin, Solange Koné is a
women’s rights activist in Ivory Coast, Jean Victor Lemvo -Solidaire- Pointe
Noire (Congo Brazzaville), Damien Millet is the CADTM France spokesperson,
Luc Mukendi is the coordinator of AMSEL /CADTM LUBUMBASHI, Victor Nzuzi is
a farmer, coordinator of GRAPR and NAD Kinshasa, Sophie Perchellet is a
researcher at CADTM Belgium, Aminata Barry Touré is president of
CAD-Mali/Coordinator of the Peoples’ Forum, Eric Toussaint is president of
CADTM Belgium, Ibrahim Yacouba is a trade unionist in Niger, … all are
members of the international CADTM network,

Translated by Maria Gatti.


[1.Emilie Tamadaho Atchaca is president of CADD Benin, Solange Koné is a
women’s rights activist in Ivory Coast, Jean Victor Lemvo -Solidaire- Pointe
Noire (Congo Brazzaville), Damien Millet is the CADTM France spokesperson,
Luc Mukendi is the coordinator of AMSEL /CADTM LUBUMBASHI, Victor Nzuzi is
a farmer, coordinator of GRAPR and NAD Kinshasa, Sophie Perchellet is a
researcher at CADTM Belgium, Aminata Barry Touré is president of
CAD-Mali/Coordinator of the Peoples’ Forum, Eric Toussaint is president of
CADTM Belgium, Ibrahim Yacouba is a trade unionist in Niger, … all are
members of the international CADTM network,

[2.See the Financial Times (FT) 12 June 2009. According to FT, Burham
Philbrook, the US Undersecretary of State for Agriculture declared that
Washington could not guarantee funding of WFP at the level of 2008, during
which the United States had brought 2 billion dollars to the WFP budget.
Also according to FT, Philbrook suggested that WFP had to reduce its aid
although he knew perfectly well that the number of hungry people increased
in 2009.

[3.This continuity is also visible in Obama’s failure to take action in the
putsch in Honduras. While denouncing it, he lets matters slide. Furthermore,
the Pentagon is very close to the putschists. The latter would not remain in
power if the Pentagon gave them the order to withdraw.

[6.From Obama’s statement at the G8 Summit in L’Aquila.

[7.See Eric Toussaint, World Bank : A Critical Primer, Pluto-Between the
Lines-David Philip, London-Toronto-Cape Town, 2007, chapter 11, “South
Korea: the miracle unmasked”. online:

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