July 27, 2021 (2021-07-27)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
Last week marked six months for the Biden administration and for the
narrow Democratic majority in Congress. So it seems an appropriate
time for a report card on U.S. Africa policy. And that also means a
review of U.S. policies on today's most pressing global issues, on
which the negative effects fall disproportionately on Africans on
the continent and in the diaspora.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin is my version of such a report card. It's
short, just pass/fail. It's not an essay, nor is it an argument to
persuade others that mine is correct.
Bottom line, there’s no doubt that Biden is doing better than Trump
on almost all points, so that's a clear pass. But there are also no
signs of any intention to reexamine and question past U.S. policies,
whether the time frame begins with the end of World War II, extends
into the distant past, or focuses only on the post-Cold War period.
Within the administration and Congress, there are only faint
glimmers of questioning and review of the foreign policy record. So
that's a clear fail.
The most critical question is whether the United States can play a
constructive and collaborative role in confronting today's global
crises that threaten planetary suicide. On that, the grade is
clearly “incomplete.” It depends on many unknown factors, some of
which can be addressed by human action and some of which may already
be out of control.
This Bulletin is intended to serve as a resource for anyone who
wants to make their own report card on U.S. Africa policy at this
critical time for the United States, Africa, and the world. The
short quotes and links provide background on the sources that
informed my grading. Readers or others who want to contest the
grades, including current policy makers, are welcome to send me by
email other sources that support alternative views. I don't
guarantee an answer to all, but I will definitely read and think
For August and early September, AfricaFocus will be taking a break from regular publication for rest, reflection, and time with family and friends. However, you can expect to receive one or more messages, either sharing information or updating you on future plans. Later this week I hope to provide an update from another project that I have been working with, directed by my longtime colleague and friend Imani Countess. And at some point I will share my reflections about the future direction this Bulletin should take, with an editor approaching 79 years old and a world that is moving and changing faster than ever before.
Thanks, as always, to my readers for your support in many ways over the years.
Our goal in this writing project to not to lay out a comprehensive
vision of U.S. foreign policy or of U.S. policy toward Africa. It is
rather to suggest that the time is ripe for re-visioning how we
think about the U.S. role in the world. Such rethinking is essential
for any fundamental changes in policy on pressing global issues, on
which Africa both suffers the greatest vulnerability and has
significant potential for leading global rethinking about solutions.
“Last month the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership Program Act of 2021” with strong bipartisan support.Current U.S. policies have been counterproductive and a new U.S. policy is desperately needed in Africa and elsewhere in the global south. However, the proposals outlined in this bill — while welcome — risk being nothing more than a change of sentiment.”
“The record of both Republican and Democratic administrations, over more than six decades, has been mixed, ranging from destructive interventions to neglect to — far less often — productive collaboration with Africans on common goals. If the Biden mantra of “Build Back Better” is to be applied to Africa, we need to think about new frameworks to guide policy rather than retreading the shibboleths of the past. “
Taxation is at the heart of our understanding of government. In a society ruled by a corrupt elite, taxation is seen as unjust, another way of siphoning wealth upward in an already unequal society. In a society in which the interests of the people are represented, however imperfectly, government is an essential tool for providing public goods. Taxation is the essential tool to provide resources to meet common needs such as education, health, public safety, protection of the rule of law, physical infrastructure such as roads and bridges, and more.
Over the past four decades, right-wing ideologists preaching the gospel of an unhindered free market have dominated public discourse in Western countries and in the international economic institutions under their influence. Taxation for public health and other common goods has been portrayed as illegitimate interference with the preeminent right to private property.
As the coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis make clear, threats to our common welfare cannot be confined by borders and walls. Collaboration across borders is essential for us to cope with the damage done and build a safer future. No nation-state, however powerful, can achieve this by acting alone. Indeed, the failure to act together can only lead us into a downward cycle of destruction in which ultimately there are no winners.
The term “apartheid” comes from South Africa, notorious in the 20th century as the last stronghold of white minority rule. Political apartheid in South Africa ended in 1994 with free elections open to South Africans of all races. But South Africa and the world are still embedded in an international system of inequality reflecting the history of European conquest and domination.
In July 2020, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in the annual Nelson Mandela lecture, addressed what he called the “inequality pandemic” and called the world to a “new social contract.” Such a contract, it is clear, will not happen quickly. But it will not happen at all unless millions around the world mobilize to make it happen.
In today’s global economy, the rallying cry “An injury to one is an injury to all” has become less a slogan than a statement of fact. Racism, poverty, climate change and pandemics know no borders.
International solidarity activists who helped bring South Africa’s apartheid to its knees used multiple methods to exert economic pressure for peaceful change. These included familiar strategies of consumer boycotts and sanctions by governments. Particularly innovative and effective, however, were campaigns to pressure multinational corporations to withdraw their investments and sever economic ties to South Africa. These campaigns for disinvestment of resources, mobilizing massive support across the globe, set precedents and provide touchstones for today’s solidarity movements.
Asking young women and queer Africans to put their own struggles aside, in deference to the argument that “national” liberation must come first, as our foremothers did again and again, is not acceptable. (see longer excerpt below).
There are many books to recommend but probably the most important is the eagerly awaited book by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Not a Nation of Immigrants. It is available for pre-order at Bookshop.org, and ships on August 24.
“While some of us are immigrants or descendants of immigrants, others are descendants of white settlers who arrived as colonizers to displace those who were here since time immemorial, and still others are descendants of those who were kidnapped and forced here against their will.”
No analysis of U.S. domestic or foreign policy will make sense unless there is an understanding of how they are intertwined and defined by a history of conquest, slavery, and imperial expansion.
For more references on this history, see the two essays above on “Divest from Violent Policing and Endless Wars.”
U.S. policymakers should also watch Raoul Peck, HBO series, April 2021
I haven't watched it yet (I'm not on HBO). But signing up just for this is on my must-do list.
Selected Background Readings on Global and African Issues
The effect of U.S. policies on Africa come primarily not from proactive engagement with specific African countries. The continent remains marginal to mainstream policy makers. And U.S. influence in any specific country is only one factor among many external influences. But U.S. global policy, extended to Africa, has enormous effects on the fate of Africa, which suffers the most from the inequality of the world system.
Washington aims to recast NATO in the image of the US military, with its focus on “great power competition” and a renewed arms race with Russia and China.
by Michael Klare, June 25, 2021
“Ostensibly, the aim of all this summitry was to revitalize the Western alliance in the wake of all the damage wreaked by former president Donald Trump and to restore America’s status as the West’s leading champion. But what is this new chapter really about? The 79 points in the final communiqué make the intent clear: to recast NATO in the image of the US military, with its focus on “great power competition” and a renewed arms race with Russia and China. The vehicle for accomplishing this is the NATO 2030 agenda, a virtual facsimile of the Pentagon’s 2018 National Defense Strategy. Both call for the harnessing of advanced technologies to ensure combat superiority in every “domain” of warfare—land, air, sea, space, and cyber—and both focus on countering China’s geopolitical outreach in Asia and beyond.”
Women were central to the movements for independence and everyday resistance to colonial rule. But often the movements themselves morphed into ruling political class hegemonies. While we have increased the number of women in parliaments in Africa to match the global average of 25%, actual power in government and society falls far short of that achievement. True liberation for women and minorities from shackles introduced by colonial subversion of gender remains elusive. From homes to bars to streets and workplaces, for all the strides made in “empowering women,” we have yet to truly see the liberation of women, in the sense of being able to walk this world free in their own skin and their own bodies – free from violence.
And often there’s an expectation that oppressed people, in this case, African young women and gender-diverse people, should be civil in demanding that their full humanity be recognized. We hear condescending phrases such as “you are asking for too much.”
But who defines what is “too much” for anyone’s freedom and existence? For Sheena Bageine and Stella Nyanzi here in Uganda, and young women and queer Africans resisting dehumanization around the continent, the response is to be “too much.” It is only when women are “too much” that new cracks in the wall of patriarchal dictatorships can emerge.
by Mona Baraké, Theresa Neef, Paul-Emmanuel Chouc, Gabriel Zucman
On July 1st 2021, 130 countries under the OECD and G20 Inclusive Framework on BEPS agreed to promote a minimum tax of at least 15% on their multinationals’ profits. Having been joined by Peru and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines since then, 132 countries are now part of the joint statement. The joint statement includes a substance-based carve-out of 5% rate of return on the carrying value of tangible assets and payroll. In the first years of the implementation, the carve-out would be 7.5%.
Introducing carve-outs for substance raises two issues. First, it profoundly changes the nature and meaning of a global minimum tax and could exacerbate tax competition. Second, it would reduce the revenue potential from a minimum tax. . . .
Conceptually, a minimum tax with no substance carve-out means that some tax rates are considered too low by the international community. An agreement on such a minimum tax would be a landmark because it would be the first time that limits are put to international tax competition. A minimum tax with carve-outs, by contrast, reflects a different perspective. With such a tax, a company that owns €1 billion in assets in a country with a 0% corporate tax rate, and makes €50 million in profit there, would still be subject to no tax at all. In other words, no tax rate is considered too low. . . .
Worse, it gives firms incentives to move capital and employment to places where tax rates are very low. The members of the OECD Inclusive Framework and the OECD need to be very clear: do they want to restrict tax competition? Or is any tax rate — even 0% — acceptable? Is the goal of the Inclusive Framework to stop the race to the bottom? Or is it merely to limit profit shifting to countries where no real activity takes place?
“Sub-Saharan Africa is in the grips of a third wave of COVID-19 infections that threatens to be even more brutal than the two that came before.
This is yet more evidence of a dangerous divergence in the global economy. One track for countries with good access to vaccines, where strong recoveries are taking hold. And another for those countries that are still waiting and at risk of falling further behind.
The growth of infections in sub-Saharan Africa is now the fastest in the world, with an explosive trajectory that is outpacing the record set in the second wave. At this pace, this new wave will likely surpass previous peaks in a matter of days—and in some countries, infections are already more than double, or even triple, their January peaks. The latest (delta) variant—reportedly 60 percent more transmissible than earlier variants—has been detected in 14 countries.”
Background Readings on Regional and Country Issues
It is more and more difficult to keep up on the many crises around the world, including in Africa
Any of these would provide ample material for an AfricaFocus Bulletin. But each takes time to do. I did two on Mozambique in May. In lieu of more Bulletins than I can possibly find time to prepare, I provide below just a few background sources.
The eSwatini army has taken full charge after mass pro-democracy protests left many people dead, according to a Human Rights Watch official. Dewa Mavhinga, director for Southern Africa, added that reports received by the organisation were that the Army were on a 'killing spree'. He said police in Swaziland had reported that the Army had refused to have joint operations so military deployment was not under civilian authority or oversight. Mavhinga reported: "From a police source, the army is now fully in charge for real .. not even the police knows what the army is doing now."
Regional ministers of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) went to eSwatini to try and defuse the crisis there, but left without having properly engaged the opposition.
Demonstrations against the authoritarian monarchy escalated following the shooting of a student in mid-May. Swazi Media Commentary reported that marches took place in at least 10 places, mainly in rural areas despite a ban placed by the king on pro-democracy demonstrations. Reports indicated that as many as 19 people had been shot dead, allegedly by the military.
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