Rethinking Third World Relations with Developed Countries: Does Lobbying Washington D.C. Reward Sub-Saharan African Governments?

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In 2003, just before leaving his country for exile in Nigeria, former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, responding to a question from Newsweek reporter, Tom Masland, on what soured his relations with Washington D.C. replied, "l don't know. Because I have done everything I was supposed to do. After my election, Jimmy Carter said 'President Taylor, congratulations. There are several things that you have to do, then you will get assistance from the United States.' I've done them. Maybe I should have put more money into public relations in America. Nobody understands Charles Taylor." (1)

The latter part of this candid response from an ousted president on the verge of being exiled to another country sounds like an admission to an exercise in futility regarding his efforts to influence any aspect of U.S. foreign policy towards his government that forced him out of power; but it raises far more critical implications for the understanding of democratic governance as preached by the United States, regime stability in sub-Saharan Africa and the international relations of Third World countries.

His ultimate removal from power under U.S. pressure does not say much about the success of Taylor's public relations efforts in Washington D.C. However, his statement challenges scholarship preoccupied with explaining relations between Third World countries and the more powerful developed countries, especially the United States, to empirically verify the extent to which such countries affect their external relations with others using public relations experts and lobbyists to procure influence.

In examining relations between Third World countries and developed countries, we focus on the United States for several reasons. First, in spite of much skepticism she has advertised herself as the "beacon of democracy and freedom" more than any other developed country, and she has preached democratic governance and respect for the rule of law as the cornerstone of her international relations with Third World countries. Second, much of the scholarship on international relations projects the United States as one of the most powerful but self-seeking hegemonic influences in recent world history. Thirdly, under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, the United States maintains one of the most thorough and readily-available records of international agents that seek to influence its government.

Although the conduct of relations between the United States and Third World sub-Saharan African countries has received a lot of scholarly attention previously, a lot of this vast scholarship neglects to examine both sides of the relationship equation in order to present a fuller picture of the process, what transpires between the two parties, who really benefits and how and why. (2) In most analyses, the United States is variously presented as a hegemonic influence primarily seeking her interests including moral domination of the Third World or their natural resources in a global quest for power, raw materials and markets while such states are presented as passive, acquiescent parties in this process. (3) As a consequence, there is a deficiency of a comprehensive understanding regarding any role sub-Saharan African Governments may play in the formulation of any policy positions of the United States towards their countries and what their interests may be in seeking to establish or maintain representation in Washington D.C. besides their diplomatic missions. The prevalent assumption in the literature is that governments in sub-Saharan Africa neither have the influence nor the means to secure any self-serving interests they may have in maintaining relations with Washington D.C. (4)

One gap between such assumptions in the existing literature and Charles Taylor's case, is that the former dictator who was known for his autocratic rule during his six-year presidency would not have hoped to improve his relationship with the United States by spending money on public relations in Washington D. …