Last in Line: Africa Doesn't Rate in U.S. Foreign Relations

Article excerpt

At the end of 2002, President George W. Bush had a choice to make: go to Africa or prepare to go to war.

In December, while trying to distance itself from racist remarks made by then-Senate Majority Leader, Trent Lott (R-Miss.), the White House cited the planned trip to Africa as evidence of the president's and Republicans' concern for Black issues. But as soon as Lott stepped down from his leadership post, Bush canceled the week-long tour scheduled for January 2003 for reasons described only as unnamed "domestic and international considerations."

Bush's Africa trip would have been his first official visit to the continent and was to include stops in Senegal, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Mauritius. The White House said the president planned to visit Africa to "continue building America's partnership with the continent and to share firsthand with African leaders his commitment to working on issues ranging from the war on terrorism to economic development."

The cancellation barely rated coverage by mainstream media. It seemed to accept that Washington had "more important" matters on its mind, namely plotting the invasion of Iraq.

Two months later, the White House found itself in the awkward position of trying to gain the support of the three African non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - Guinea, Cameroon and Angola - for its war plans.

Traditionally ignored by Washington, African countries are increasingly significant international players. The West African country of Guinea held the presidency of the security council during the fateful month of March. But despite the Bush administration's entreaties, the African members resisted the pressure to support the American war resolution and it was withdrawn.

For Africa, the importance of race as a determinant of U.S. foreign policy cannot be denied. It represents the initial barrier to an accurate understanding of U.S. interests in Africa. American society, which for most of its history has refused to value its own people of African descent, has also devalued an entire continent from which Africans were stolen and enslaved. Several hundred years of creating a national mind set thus oriented are not undone in a few decades or by a few presidential trips.

But the discerning observer can easily see that Africa should actually be a top priority for U.S. policymakers if America is to focus on the most crucial global issues. Today's most urgent international threats, from the HIV/AIDS pandemic to extreme poverty, from environmental degradation to international terrorism, have their most immediate and devastating consequences in Africa. These challenges must be addressed in Africa, in partnership with Africans, if they are to be kept from overwhelming the world.

FACING THE CHALLENGE

The unprecedented challenges facing Africa and the United States are emblematic of the state of the world. The U.S. is the richest country in human history, while Africa contains the majority of the world's poorest countries. America's prosperity and Africa's impoverishment are historically linked.

The United States is now the sole superpower in the world. It has unmatched military and economic might. The U.S. faces the challenge of determining how to use its power not only to safeguard its own future security and prosperity, but also to promote the international stability and human security upon which America's own prospects depend.

Across the Atlantic, Africa is now the epicenter of the greatest catastrophe in recorded human history - the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Africa cannot overcome this challenge on its own, nor should it have to. But Africans must mobilize the international community to join their struggle to defeat this global public health crisis. And the AIDS crisis can be stemmed in Africa. But this would require not only attacking the disease, but also the poverty and structural inequalities that help fuel its spread. …