Poor study of history… behind misplaced African optimism over Joe Biden

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By Dr Tafataona Mahoso

THE pursuit of cordial relations with all nations of the world is a noble goal and it explains why the world still takes a great interest in the United Nations despite that institution’s frequent abuse by big powers.

In this regard, it is perfectly normal to express goodwill toward every new administration that comes to power especially through an election such as that held in the United States recently.

Global good manners aside, it is wrong for our journalists and editors as our ‘instant historians’ to create the impression that the Biden administration represents a profound departure from the preceding Trump administration when it comes to tangible African interests.  

This mistaken view is simply an indication of the poverty of our history education.

Joe Biden belongs to the same Democratic Party of the United States as former US President Barack Obama.  

Indeed, the US-NATO invasion of Libya took place on Obama’s watch and it represents the worst disaster in Africa’s relations with the Western world since the CIA assassination of Patrice Lumumba in 1960. Yet Barack Obama, as former US President, did contribute to Biden’s victory to a significant extent.   

He campaigned eloquently for his former Vice President Biden to become President this time.

The late prominent writer and liberation war hero Cde Alexander Kanengoni  when Obama won the race to the US presidency in 2009 

clearly sensed what he called “confusion” among African journalists and other opinion leaders about what to make of Obama in 2009.

Instead of using the ascendancy of Obama (or Biden) as an opportunity for Africans to define and project themselves and their enduring interests to this new player on the global stage, our journalists and opinion leaders in 2009 and now in 2020 seemed most eager to bend our real identities and our real interests to fit the new player’s perceived requirements.

According to Cde Kanengoni in 2009, African journalists and opinion leaders (including politicians) made their response to the new US President a question of whether to trust or not to trust him. 

But the issue was not Barack Obama’s personality then; it is not about Biden’s personality now.

In the second place, Kanengoni noted that Obama’s election “threw our politics into a bit of confusion” long before we had seen what the actual content of his policies was going to be.  

That “confusion” arose from a poor history education.

In the third place, and more alarmingly, Kanengoni noted that our opinion leaders seemed to accept Obama’s post-modernist view and to claim that history, especially African history, was a burden, an albatross, which prevented Africans from finding the way forward in dealing with their challenges. 

African history was seen as a burden and a blind spot instead of a torch.

In the fourth place, Cde Kanengoni noted that the confusion among African opinion leaders concerning the new administration was indeed a function of the media and media images which were not subjected to historical understanding.

“Those images across Africa of people chanting his name [Obama] and others like us, wondering what to make of him, represented the continent’s dilemma with Obama. The man represents a new face of imperialism that is confusing and difficult to understand…  Throughout he (Obama) stressed his African descent, constantly mentioning his late Kenyan father.  He bemoaned colonialism but quickly added Africa’s big problem was blaming this past for its current woes and failings.”

Three Examples of Undue African Optimism on the Biden Administration

“I would now expect the Biden Presidency to honour its campaign promises in terms of restoring the spirit of multilateralism and upholding democratic values and human rights in relation with Africa and the world.” (Danilele Bekele, Chief of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, cited by Al Jazeera).

“(For) Africa, simply a reset of the world to Obama administration levels [by Biden] will be a significant improvement on the last four years and it is clear that the Biden administration is headed in that direction.” (Gyude Moore, Senior policy fellow at the Centre for Global Development, former Minister of Public Works of Liberia, cited by Al Jazeera

“The Trump administration undermined decades of US history (in which that country behaved) as a bastion of democracy and a protagonist of universal tolerance. The coming of Joe Biden potentially promises to restore all these (values). On a continent that needs the West more than the other way round, never under-estimate the renewing powers of this [Biden] prospect in the minds of those shouldering the loftiest individual and national aspirations everywhere in Africa.” (Fisayo Soyombo, freelance journalist and ex-editor of The Cable, Nigeria, cited by Al Jazeera)

Some of the History

Readers of this column may or may not have seen the story on page 3 of The Daily News for August 8 2012, called “(Hillary) Clinton meets Mandela, snubs Mugabe” and a second story in the same paper the next day, 9 August 2012, called “Free, fair referendum then polls: US tables conditions for lifting of sanctions against Zimbabwe in Cape Town.”

Zimbabwe met the so-called conditions laid down by the Obama administration but the sanctions remained. They remain to this day.

Given the trail of destruction which represents US foreign policy in Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Congo and Libya I cried with laughter at the absurdity of these two stories, stories deliberately framed to try to help US foreign policy against Zimbabwe and to make Zimbabwean patriots feel sorry for being skipped by the she-wolf of this US foreign rampage, Hillary Clinton.

The Daily News then was clearly one of the key stations along the Anglo-Saxon conveyer belt of global lies.  

Southern-Africa today symbolises the decline and not the resurgence of US and overall Anglo-Saxon power and racial arrogance.  

But The Daily News was ignorant of that history.  

Hillary Clinton in 2012 was merely beating a trail and repeating foreign policy gimmicks which had consistently led to failure since the early years of the Cold War. Let me illustrate this: 

The year 1957 is important to Pan-Africanists because of the independence of Ghana which led to the homecoming of the Pan-African movement at the All African Peoples’ Conference in Accra in 1958.  

Prior to that date, the Pan- African Conferences were held in London, Manchester, and Paris. Zimbabwe’s liberation fighters were excited about their invitation to that 1958 conference. 

Instead of rejoicing with the Africans who were reclaiming their sovereignty, the United States in the 1960s took the very same reactionary route Hillary Clinton followed in 2011 and 2012.

The reactionary route was faithfully reported in the white settler magazine East Africa and Rhodesia on January 24 1957:  “American Congress Member’s Report on African Visit: Tribute to British Administration in East and Central Africa.”

This was a story about a US intelligence and research team sent to Africa in 1956 under the leadership of Congresswoman Frances Bolton. While paying lip-service to a vague notion of “Africa’s rebirth,”  Bolton made it clear in her 1957 report that the best way for the US Government to help the African masses was not by supporting Pan-African leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, but by supporting the imperialist powers: “Make it clear to the metropolitan countries that we [the US] have no desire to interfere with their method of bringing more health and education to their (Africans)…” Clinton as Obama’s Secretary of State basically said the same thing in a different context:  Support the Rhodesian whites and the British by supporting their stooges in Zimbabwe.

But, just as Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama were scared about emerging relations between Africa and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries; so in 1957 the US Government was scared of the emerging relationship between African nationalists and the Eastern bloc countries, especially the Soviet Union and China.  

Bolton reported in 1957: “We cannot close our eyes to Russia’s invasion of Africa. Just as she took hundreds of students from China and gave them education in their Communist schools, so is she [Russia] doing with hundreds of starry-eyed young Africans who see only the vision of freedom that is told to them.” 

So, in 1957 US policy defined African aspirations for autonomy and sovereignty as “told to them by Russia.”

This is the history which The Daily News editor did not know:  if the Western empire was scared of a few ‘starry-eyed’ African juveniles going to study in Russia in 1957, what about the China-Africa Summit, the Indi-Africa Summit, the entire Look East policy, and the presence of Russian and Chinese companies at Penhalonga and Marange in Zimbabwe, where the President of the country in 2011 and 2012 was no longer a starry-eyed juvenile but an accomplished Pan-African statesman reaching 88 years of age and wise enough to be Clinton’s teacher?

But I have jumped the gun.  

The settler magazine East Africa and Rhodesia faithfully reported again on April 11 1957: “US Vice-President [Richard] Nixon’s Report on His African Visit: Great Stress on Plans of International Communism.” 

In other words, Frances Bolton’s visit in January 1957 triggered an even bigger mission led by Vice President Richard Nixon himself four months later who went on to become President of the United States in 1968.  

Like Mrs Bolton before him, Nixon also defined African struggles for independence as being “told to them by Russia and China.”

Nixon’s 1957 mission worsened Cold War rhetoric and brought about US actions in Congo and elsewhere which have alienated African patriots and Pan-Africanists to this day. Why did the US so misread the situation? History gives us the answers.

By 1951 the Anglo-American destiny of Southern Africa seemed guaranteed.  

The United States of America had come to appreciate the role of white settler colonies in this region, not only as pillars of imperialism in its Cold War against communism, but also in the tangible, material reconstruction of Europe after the Hitler wars.  

Europe did not have the US dollars with which to pay for food, machinery and materials from the USA.  

So an impoverished and devastated Europe paid a prospering USA with foreign currency earned by African and Asian colonies.  

Zimbabwean coal, gold and chrome paid for the reconstruction of Britain; just as Congolese copper, cobalt, uranium and other strategic minerals earned the US dollars which enabled Belgium to be rebuilt.  This explains why today, it is only white western countries which maintain sanctions against Zimbabwe.

But there was more.  

Part of the reconstruction of Europe under the Marshall Plan involved paying and resettling the demobilised white soldiers.  

The World Bank was therefore employed to finance the African Land Husbandry (ALHA) of Southern Rhodesia which became the implementation phase of the Land Apportionment Act of 1930. 

The net effect of these acts was that white settler farmers came to own 1 200 acres (on average) of the best farmland while African peasants had access to only 14 acres per person (on average) of the driest and most infertile land in Zimbabwe.  

Likewise, African cattle herders were limited to 6 head of cattle per household while white cattle ranchers and dairy farmers were not limited.

So by 1951 the United States as the leading imperialist power was benefiting from European colonialism and settlerism in Africa so much that the white settlers felt reassured about the permanent future of white rule and its imperial Anglo-Saxon support. 

What appeared to be a far-fetched position of the white South African regime in 1951 was reaffirmed by the Nixon administration of the US in US National Security Memorandum 39 of 1969, otherwise known as the Kissinger Study of Southern Africa, which concluded, among other things, that:

‘The whites [in Rhodesia, Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa] are here to stay and the only way that constructive change can come about is through them.  There is no hope for the blacks to gain the political rights they seek through violence, which will only lead to chaos and increased opportunities for the communists.”

Henry Kissinger was President Nixon’s Secretary of State.  The children of Soweto changed Kissinger’s name to “Kiss Inja,” kiss the imperial dog, because of his support for apartheid and UDI.

Just as now, in 1969 the US Government and its ambassadors and advisors also doubted the determination of the Africa people of this region (including Zimbabweans) to define their interests and objectives and to pursue the same to the end.  This continues to be the African problem to this day.  White sanctions on Zimbabwe were invited by our own brothers and sisters!

Moreover, the 1969 Kissinger study did not see the African people as the drivers of change. It therefore concluded that:

“Military realities rule out black victory at any stage.  Moreover, there are reasons to question the depth and permanence of black resolve.” 

The next year [1970] after Kissinger’s policy document, a North American supporter of Rhodesia, South Africa and the Portuguese empire, by the name of Nathaniel Weyl, also published a book called Traitor’s End.

The book was intended to be the white racist’s celebration of the final liquidation of all the liberation movements of Southern Africa: the African National Congress of South Africa (ANC); the South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO) of Namibia; the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO); the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA); the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU); the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU); and others.

Indeed the years 1969-1971 were bad for most liberation movements.  Their leaders were mostly in jail and the US administration of President Richard Nixon had moved from expressing sympathy for imperial powers and white settler regimes to providing the weapons and finances needed to wage settler wars against African liberation movements.  

In exchange for use of military bases on the Azores Islands, the US began to provide massive military aid to the Portuguese empire and this in turn inspired the Rhodesian and South African regimes.  

The message of Traitors’ End was that the African liberation movements would never recover from their set-backs enough to cause any more trouble to whites; and that Europe would provide poor whites to settle in Angola, Mozambique, Rhodesia, Namibia and South Africa and turn these African countries into permanent white societies on the European model.

That was in 1969-1971. 

But by 1978, however, the freedom fighters of ZANLA (ZANU) and ZIPRA (ZAPU) were close to outright military victory.  The settler regime hastily arranged an Internal Settlement which excluded the freedom fighters and which received encouragement from both the US and the UK.  

But the Internal Settlement was to last less than one year, again, indicating the dismal failure of the concerned white powers to read the geopolitical situation in the region at the time.

Kissinger’s reading of the geopolitics of Southern Africa in 1969 was way off the mark; and within less than five years the situation had completely changed, contrary to the conclusions of his study.

Even when the situation changed, white capitalist interest, conventional realpolitik and conventional white racism combined to downplay the critical role of African liberation movements.  

The sudden transformation of the guerrilla war situation in Southern Africa in 1974 continued to be credited to the Portuguese coup d’etat which forced the new Portuguese regime to pull out of Mozambique (1975) and Angola (1976), thereby leaving Ian Smith’s Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) almost completely surrounded by what became the Frontline States which offered rear-bases to the African liberation movements fighting to liberate what is now the Southern African Development Community (SADC) from white minority rule.

What capitalist interests, conventional realpolitik and conventional racism helped to downplay was the fact that the very same  African guerrilla armies which came to besiege Ian Smith’s Rhodesia were responsible for changing the geopolitical situation in the region against the Portuguese empire.  

It was this changed situation which caused the coup d’etat in Portugal against the fascist regime of Antonio Salazaar.

In other words, by changing the balance of forces and the security factors in Southern Africa, the African guerrilla armies liberated not only themselves but also Portuguese Europeans from European fascism.  They also changed US imperial security policy toward Southern Africa.  This is what our current opinion leaders fail to understand: that small nations and ordinary people are agents of global change too.

I use this example, not only because the men and women who are now commanders in the SADC region today were among the young guerrillas of the 1970s, but also because US capital interests and racism blinded Kissinger’s national security experts and prevented them from reading the geopolitical situation in Southern Africa correctly.

Ten years later, when the liberation movements of Zimbabwe were negotiating with Britain at Lancaster House, they found out not only that the white Rhodies were still a specially protected sub-species but also that the Africans being used by the empire to shield the Rhodies were also valued far above those who resisted racism and imperialism.

The British and their North American cousins were first concerned about the fate of the white settlers; and their special preference for Bishop Abel Muzorewa’s United African National Congress (UANC) was based on the fact that, just like Morgan Tsvangirai thirty three years later, Muzorewa too had accepted the definition of the white settlers as a specially protected sub-species of the empire.

Therefore US diplomat and Columbia University Professor Elliot P Skinner in 1979 reaffirmed the Kissinger doctrine for the North Americans. He wrote:

“Our tragedy is that, whether we like it or not, the United States has inherited the role of metropole [or mother country] of all the whites in Southern Africa.  This is not a role we welcomed, but it is one we cannot avoid… we are the ones who have led the discussions about the future of these countries [meaning Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Namibia.]”

But it is a remarkable achievement of African self-determination that, by 1979, US support for white racist interests in our region could be admitted as a tragedy by a US ambassador: That is what the editor of The Daily News failed to understand in 2012.  

That is what some of our opinion leaders in 2020 also do not understand.

Indeed the same white world which helped the Rhodesian settler regime to bust UN mandatory sanctions from 1965 to 1980 could also be counted upon to support the Rhodesian agenda of the MDC formations and to agitate for illegal regime change and racist sanctions against Zimbabwe from 2000 to-date. 

The foundations of that worldwide and racist MDC lobby were put in place during the Rhodesian era.  According to Professor Gerald Horne:

“South Africans, French, British, Israelis, Germans, New Zealanders, Australians, and many others from the Pan-European world rallied in defence of the [white] outlaw state [of Rhodesia.]”

Yet Skinner said by 1979 this racist posture was a tragedy.

The same white lobby and the countries behind it recognised that the African land reclamation revolution of 1992-2002 was in fulfilment of the same African liberation objectives which the Rhodesian regime had resisted from 1965 to 1980.  So the same struggle continues. So, even if the Biden administration wished to lift the economic and financial embargo against Zimbabwe, that administration would have to contend with capitalist interests, white lobbies and traditions which have been entrenched for more than a century.

The point I am making is clear.  We know where we come from, how far we have come, and how far and where we still have to go. But we are not teaching that rich history even to our youthful journalists.

The BRICS group of countries present even better prospects for the path which the Pan-Africanist radicals in Zimbabwe can opt to pursue today in 2020 than the prospects which Kwame Nkrumah and Ghana faced alone in 1957.

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