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When African despots get away speaking the language of development what can the people do?

April 10, 2014

by Teshome Debalke

If there is the one and only thing the late Ethiopian despot Melse Zenawi (let the lord save his sinful tyrant soul) shined at it was speaking the language of what the international power broker want to hear from an African despots. He was so good double talking, he bamboozled prominent Western leaders to praise him while Eastern despots feel confident they found their partner they can do business without accountability.  He was indeed the envy of his African counterparts and the pride of his corrupt cronies at home and abroad to earn him the de facto representative of African despot’s quest to beg their way out of their misrule.

Susan Rice, the former US Ambassador at the UN and the present senior national security adviser to the Obama Administration can attest to that fact with praises of all kinds on every opportunity she got, including on his funeral ceremony in Addis Ababa.

She is not alone, Bill Gate of the Microsoft Corporation and Chairman of the Bill & Melinda Foundation along some prominent political leaders like the former United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair have good thing to say about the late despot.

As embarrassing as it is for consciousness western observers to see their leaders embrace a smalltime African despots in the 21st century, it all boils down to the low expectations of Western leaders from African despots thus, the complete disregard for the rights and liberties of the African people. Call it racism, diplomatic jab to cover-up the undeclared ‘economic or geopolitical interest’, or simply indifference to the suffering of millions of people under brutal and corrupt despots they bankroll, the fact remains; Western leaders continue the pre-colonial tradition of undermining the rights of millions of people in Africa and elsewhere by embracing their chosen despots without much challenge from the African intelligentsia, their peers, humanitarian organizations, Multilateral institutions and the Media.

In fact, the last two decades (since the cold war ended) Western leaders as their mostly totalitarian Eastern counterpart choose to crank up the public relation stunt to make their chosen despot speaks the language of ‘development’ and ‘investment’.  The late Melse Zenawi was chosen to be the luminary of the PR stunt– representing Africa’s despots in G8 summits as well as most international forums. Indecently, the few democratically elected African leaders choose silence in the face of crimes against of humanity and corruption of their counterparts.

Other African despots were also accorded the privilege of codling with Western and Eastern leaders — speaking the language of development and investment framed as ‘to help the poor’.

The White House’s red carpet invitation of President Ali Bongo of the oil rich nation of Gabon and the subsequent explanation of the Obama Administration’s   Press Secretary Jay Carney admitting to ABC News that Bongo has a “less than sterling record” speaks volume to the mindset of the Obama Administration to give a pass even to worst despots known for their terrible record. He said;

“First of all, the president of Gabon is making reform efforts, which we support. Secondly … Gabon has been an important partner in some of the issues that are very important to American national security.”

Ali Bongo is known as one of the most corrupt despots in Africa where his ruling family has been in power for more than four decades (since 1967). Receiving red carpet invitation in the White House–framed as ‘making reform efforts’ and ‘important partner in some issue very important to American National security’ tells it all. Besides a slap on the face to the people of Gabon or Africa in general, how a corrupt despot of a small nation of a million-and-half can be a partner to American security can only be concocted by Susan Rice’s genius and tells half of the whole story of the dilemma of Africans.

“The Bongo family is alleged to have skimmed off 25 percent of the oil-rich nation’s gross domestic product over the years, and Omar was said to be one of the world’s wealthiest heads of state,” according to PI.

“In 1999, a US Senate investigation discovered $130 million in his personal bank accounts at Citibank, sourced from Gabon’s public finances. A French investigation into Elf Aquitaine was told that Omar received 50 million euros [$67-million] a year from the oil company. Other inquiries turned up fleets of Ferraris, Lamborghinis and limousines in France, along with huge real estate holdings.”

When President Obama talked about African governance at the beginning of his Administration it earned him admiration among the people. But, the speech turned out to be an empty political stunt all along. It appears Susan Rice is behind the complete turnaround of his promise to advance the cause of freedom and democracy from the scorch of tyrannies when she became the point person on the Administration’s Africa Policy. Her admiration of the late Ethiopian despot alone speaks to her lack of credibility and the Administration negligence to put her in charge as expert of African affair.

Ever since the Clinton Administration appointed her Assistant Secretary of African Affairs her unholy relationship with African des
pots, particularly the Ethiopian despot secured with her presences in US government. It reflects the low regard the Obama administration has towards Africans – allowing Susan Rice to lobby on behalf of brutal and corrupt dictators and elevate them to statesmen.

It is also shows the apathy of democratic institutions and the Media to follow up when a reneged career diplomat dictate policy and undermine US interest.

The other half of the story can be better understood when the Chinese authoritarian regime escort African despot to get the piece of the action on African resources. The African Union Headquarter building in Addis Ababa was the Chinese regime’s down payment to partner with African despots.  The symbolic building that cost 200 plus million dollar is a fraction of what an average despot skim from his respective nation every year. But, it was a gift from the authoritarian regime of China to tell African despots; China is ready to help them remain in power and exploit the resources of their respective nations without asking question.

China led ‘none interference in the internal affair of authoritarian ruled nations’ is a PR stunt to position themselves as better alternative to legitimize African despots’ corruption. It is a direct consequence of Western governments’ disregard to the rule of laws and democracy in Africa

The government owned China Central Television (CCTV) ‘staged’ interview of Bongo by Beatrice Marshall of  Talk-Africa mimicking the late Ethiopian despot Melse’s interview on the same station by Tom Walsh is the new strategy of authoritarian regime of Asia and Middle East to mask the face of Africa’s despots as developmental regimes. It is indeed a slap on the face of Western governments that have nothing much to show for but poverty, conflicts and displacement supporting African despots for decades.

CCTV reporting was not meant to be journalistic inquiry but a well-orchestrated public relation stunt of the government of China concocted for African and Western audiences. The ‘innocent’ looking Western reporters– pitching the new China’s relation with Africa are the only hope to justify the marriage of convenient of authoritarian regimes. When that was not enough, the Ethiopian ruling regime’s owned propaganda outlet- ETV’s reporter spin on Melse’s interview was the new found wisdom of African despots to complement their partnership with the ‘devil’.

The online English version CCTV was launched on December 28, 2009 to put favorable image of China in Africa to the world. It appears the China regime is embarking to export its propaganda with the help of ‘Western’ looking reporters for unsuspecting audience to tell partnership with Africa despots is a good thing for Africa’s progress. Surprisingly, many Western and African elites seem to praise the authoritarian regime of China building roads and bridges to nowhere but to China.

In the absence of institutions to counter the onslaught, it appears, Western, mostly democratic and Eastern, mostly autocratic regimes love for their chosen African despots will determine the fate of the people of Africa in the next century.

The ‘constitutionalist’ President Obama’s speech at the beginning of   his term was spreading democracy and liberty in Africa. But, it died unceremoniously with the Ethiopian despot when the Administration top adviser Susan Rice declares Melse Zenawi was ‘brilliant’ ‘visionary’ ‘selfless’, ‘passionately proud to be Ethiopian’.  She said, “of course, Meles’s vision and impact never stopped at Ethiopia’s borders. Across Africa, fellow leaders looked to Prime Minister Meles to help them make peace and jumpstart their economies. He was instrumental in building the African Union. He made IGAD deliver. He confronted terrorism directly and countered violent extremists bent on undermining the state and the region he did so much to build…”

Quite frankly, no western official ever praise any Head of State,  let alone a smalltime tyrant like Melse Zenawi of Ethiopia and got away with it like Susan Rice did—reflecting the impunity of political appointees when it comes to Africa policy and diplomacy.

When an official of the most powerful democratic nation in the free world reduced to talk about a small time African despot with such force of admiration and got rewarded with senior national security adviser of the President of the free world, the cause of democracy and liberty around the world is as good as dead.  It is an illustration of the Obama Administration’s policy of no policy on Africa– relegated to the feeling of unelected appointee towards a tyrant.

Her unholy relationship with African armed groups turned African Head of States where she singlehandedly became the driving force of US policy on East Africa started when she was a junior diplomat two decade ago.

According an article in Current History by Peter Rosenblum of Columbia University;

“Ms. Rice was the architect of a policy that invested heavily in a new crop of African leaders— Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia; Isaias Afewerki in Eritrea; Yoweri Museveni in Uganda; Paul Kagame in Rwanda—presumed to be more progressive-minded than their predecessors”.

Her questionable credential that earned her to be considered expert on Africa began around her PHD dissertation on Zimbabwe when she was ‘awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, Rice attended New College, Oxford, where she earned a MPhil in 1988 and DPhil in1990. TheChatham House-British International Studies Association honored her dissertation entitled, “Commonwealth Initiative in Zimbabwe, 1979–1980: Implication for International Peacekeeping” as the UK’s most distinguished in international relations”.

Notwithstanding the longtime despot and the only President for life Robert Mugabe since independence from British colonial rule, knowledge of Zimbabwe is hardly a qualification for US administration to surrender African policy for Susan Rice.

If anything, ‘do-as-you-go’ US policy on Africa appeared to be centered on the Susan Rice superficial knowledge ever since the Clinton Administration or the end of the cold war when she was then Assistance Secretory African Affairs up to her present position as Senior National Security Adviser to the Obama Administration. Her knowledge about Africa appears to be molded by her ‘intelligent friend’ Melse Zenawi she profoundly admired early on when he was Marxist insurgency leader way before he became the PM of Ethiopia.

As a hardline communist and the Co-Founder and Chairman of MarxismLeninist League of Tigray, Melse spent most of his life championing the superiority communism over capitalism. Undoubtedly, he probably knew more about Africa than the top US official on Africa, Susana Rice.

With all her adventure on Africa the last two decades, it rather amusing how she justified associating with known Marxist and a Chairman of Tigray People Liberation Front CIA once declared a terrorist organization. Surprisingly, there was hardly anyone in the Administration that challenged her close association with the brutal despots in East Africa, including Melse Zenawi’. It further reinforces the low regard the Obama Administration has for rights of Africans to leave it for an out-of-control official in what appears has no accountability to anyone.

More than anything, the million dollar question remains; where are the African intelligentsias to challenge the Obama Administration or Western policy in general when US Africa policy is relegated to Susan Rises?

As African struggle what to make of Western and Eastern governments’ policy of sustaining despots, it is important to remember there is no free lunch but an organize effort to let our voice heard and make the world know business as the usual with the despots of Africa is a no-no.

Even though, the autocratic regimes like China with no accountability whatsoever are out of reach, western governments must not only be accountable for sustaining the despots but, must make the autocratic regimes that do; accountable for the sake their own democracy as much as the people of Africa. Competing with autocratic regime like China to win the heart-and-mind of African despots is unwinnable battle that would have far more consequences for the people of the free world, the rule of law and the future of democracy itself.

The ‘Constitutional’ President Obama that ‘stole’ our vote on the promise of spreading democracy and the rule of law is not mandated to thwart democracy and the rule of law –coddling with African tyrants in competition with autocratic regimes like China. Nor, he is elected to outsource his responsibility to an appointee like Susan Rice that praise smalltime African despots on his watch-eroding the US Constitution he declare to live under.

As Obama’s favorite President Abraham Lincoln said;

You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today”.

As the Obama Administration’s term approach to end, it is sad to report the first President with African background gift for Africa turn out to be ‘freedom and democracy can wait until he electrify the continent for the people to see what freedom and democracy looks like. As cynical as it may sounds it is the truth.

Africans can’t remain silent on the reckless westerns policy towards Africa. Nor they can afford to expect the world’s autocracy as a substitute to Western democracy just because western governments failed to live up to their creeds. The best Africans can do is make Western governments accountable. Surrendering for China version of autocracy’s stunt as alternative for African salvation is a misguided reaction to swim downstream in uncharted waters.


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