‘African-America Son’, US Foreign Policy And Africa – OpEd


By Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe*

US President Barack Obama expresses pride in his African heritage, but his regime over the last seven years has not demonstrated any substantial commitment to the wellbeing of the African people. He has merely continued the imperial interventions and militarism of his predecessors.

This piece is indeed part of work in progress and is only presented here because of the recent interview of US President Barack Obama in The Atlantic magazine (Jeffery Goldberg, ‘The Obama Doctrine’, The Atlantic, April 2016 Issue). It is therefore going to be skeletal but its essence is not provisional as the final outcome of the study next year will demonstrate.

In 2001, I called on the leaders of the world’s principal arms-manufacturing states to ban all arms sales/transfers to Africa (Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe, African Literature in Defence of History: An Essay on Chinua Achebe, 2001: 134-138). This was in response to the rampaging post-(European)conquest genocide and other wars in Africa, begun catastrophically by Nigeria and its British ally when they both perpetrated the Igbo genocide in May 1966-Janaury 1970 with the murder of 3.1 million Igbo people or one-quarter of this nation’s population. Since the Igbo genocide, 12 million additional Africans have been murdered in follow-up genocides in Rwanda, Darfur and in other regions in the Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in multiple wars across virtually all regions of the continent. Besides being co-perpetrator of the Igbo genocide, Britain has also emerged as the lead arms supplier to Africa including its genocide-states, especially Nigeria.

In June 2009, six months after the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the US, I updated the appeal to the globe’s lead arms-manufacturing countries and noted, as follows:

US President Obama, his country’s first African-descent head of state, can be assured of a lasting legacy of his presidency by imposing a comprehensive US arms embargo on this continent of his fathers at the cusp of constructing new states of organic sensibilities – away from the terror of the genocide state. Obama should expand this initiative to involve other arms-exporters-to-Africa especially on such forums as the UN security council and the G-8. Arms ban to Africa should be internationally mandatory and enforceable (Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe, Readings from Reading: Essays on African Politics, Genocide, Literature, 2011: 193).

Seven years and three months into his 2-term presidency which ends nine months away in January 2017, Obama gives the interview to The Atlantic. It is on his foreign policy during the period. This is a wide-ranging survey but one that hardly focuses on any subject on Africa except the 2011 US-British-French invasion of Libya, itself discussed, instead, within the overarching parameters of Middle East/Arab/islamic affairs. Muammar Gaddafi’s regime is overthrown during the course of the invasion, Gaddafi is murdered as well as some members of his family in addition to some influential officials of his regime, most Libyan cities and infrastructure (irrefutable landmark achievements of the Gaddafi years in office) are spectacularly smashed up, and Libya is subsequently, today, an ‘ISIS haven’ (as The Atlantic interviewer Jeffery Goldberg terms it), largely controlled by groupings within the islamist jihadist international conglomeration – part of who Gaddafi was at war with prior to the West Trio invasion and murder.

In the interview, Obama describes the aftermath of the Libya invasion as a “mess”, a ‘s*** show’, blames the British and French leaders (David Cameron and Nicholas Sarkozy respectively) who he co-led the invasion for this resultant ‘ISIS haven – that he [Obama] has [latterly] targeted with air strikes’ but, curiously, absolves himself from the débâcle. For Obama, Cameron’s and Sarkozy’s roles in the campaign are those of ‘free riders’ who obviously cherish the perceived political capital that such invasions bring from enthusiastic sectors of domestic political opinion but are often less thoughtful of the consequences that such devastating acts of violence have on the ground or region of the world of perpetration, as they await eagerly for the invasion next time!

So, on Libya, after the troika-invasion, Obama recalls with barely disguised criticism, Cameron and Sarkozy just moved on… Cameron loses interest on this phase of the crisis/emergency, the ‘follow-up’, as he is ‘distracted by other things’ whilst Sarkozy appears more interested to ‘trumpet the flights he [is] taking in the [invasion’s] air campaign’ even though, Obama is keen to emphasise, ‘we [the US] had wiped out all [Libyan] air defenses and essentially set up the entire infrastructure [for the invasion]’.

Raft of ironies

What is at the crux of the politics of this post-Libya invasion apparent dilemma is the operationalisation of Obama’s so-called leading-from-behind strategy in the pursuit and promulgation of foreign policy projects with his allies, especially those in Europe, on the crucial task of role assignment/rationalisation. On this accord, ironically, Sarkozy’s exaggerated claims of France’s role in the invasion is a boon to Obama’s ‘leading-from-behind’ positioning as it enabled the US to ‘purchase France’s involvement in a way that made it less expensive for us and less risky for us’. The key phrase is of course ‘less risky’ and the Africa continent, in focus, where the French already had the notorious record of having carried out forty-nine (49) invasions of most of the 22 ‘francophonie’ countries here in the previous 51 years with hardly any international repercussions, couldn’t be better placed than anywhere else in the world, particularly the South World, as the geographical site to mount such an aggression involving the US with minimal risks. It should also be noted that ‘leading-from-behind’ is a cardinal feature of the overall presumed ‘retrenchment’ thrust or dynamics of Obama’s foreign policy based on his readings of US’s international relations in the past: ‘We have history … We have history with Iran, we have history with Indonesia and Central America. So we have to understand our history when we start talking about intervening, and understand the source of other people’s suspicions’. Yet the 2011 US co-led invasion of Libya fits in more appropriately with this ‘we have history’-heritage than a candidacy for some envisaged ‘retrenchment’ of interventionist/expansionist programmes overseas.

In yet another startling irony, not covered in The Atlantic interview, Obama had, in 2010, one year in office, reinstated the trail of France’s invasion history in Africa (mentioned above) which President Bush, his predecessor, had frozen for seven years as “punishment” for the French 2003 refusal to join the US-led coalition invasion of Iraq. Soon after the embargo was lifted, Sarkozy ordered the French military, true to type, to attack Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire (French invasion no. 49 of an African state since 1960), a presage to the following year’s Sarkozy-Cameron-Obama Libya invasion (again for the French, Africa invasion no. 50 since 1960), overthrew state president Laurent Gbagbo, arrested him and his wife and dragged them to an international court in The Hague for ‘trial’ on trumped-up charges, installed a local puppet as a Gbagbo replacement, murdered 2300 Africans during the course of the assault, and significantly destroyed several business and residential districts of Abidjan. In 2012, following his loss in the French presidential elections, Sarkozy passes his country’s invasion-baton-for-Africa to successor François Hollande, who, in turn, has since dispatched the French military to invade Mali (2013) and Central African Republic (2013).

Not-‘retrenchment’ and ongoing Igbo genocide in Biafra

It should now be evident that Africa does not figure distinctly in the frame of Obama’s assumed policy of ‘retrenchment’ of spheres of US interventionism abroad. On the contrary, Africa very much represents the territorial zone of US’s not-‘retrenchment’. Despite Obama’s criticism of the British and French leaderships on post-Libya invasion intra-coalition relations, he has in fact privileged the role of these dual lead-conqueror states of Africa in the pursuit of other goals of US interventionism on the continent more under the contemptuous tactical rubric of ‘Africa is direct responsibility of London and Paris’, a throwback particularly to the 1950s-1970 era of the Dwight Eisenhower-Lynden Johnson presidencies, which also manifests itself in that working slogan already cited, ‘leading-from-behind’. We will refer to one other goal as an example and this has profound consequences across the African World and history. Considering this importance, it requires a bit of background for elucidation.

In March 2015, the US, in close collaboration with Britain, imposed Muhammadu Buhari as head of Nigeria regime (echoes of ‘we have a history with Iran’?/‘we have a history with Indonesia’?). Buhari has been known to the British for 50 years – since the outbreak of the May 1966 Igbo genocide, the foundational genocide of post-(European)conquest Africa, launched by its client state Nigeria. As already noted, 3.1 million Igbo or 25 per cent of the Igbo population were murdered during the genocide. Britain, which until six years earlier was the conqueror-occupying power in Nigeria for sixty-years, supported the genocide politically, diplomatically and militarily – right from its launch date, Sunday 29 May 1966, and throughout its gruesome and devastating three phases during the course of 44 months ending 12 January 1970. Nigeria launched phase-IV of the genocide on 13 January 1970. This has continued unabated with tens of thousands of Igbo murdered and their Biafra homeland effectively occupied by Nigeria. Britain has maintained support for the genocide wholeheartedly and steadfastly during this latter phase.

Muhammadu Buhari himself has been a genocidist operative in the Nigeria military – straight ahead from the launch date of the Igbo genocide and during the Nigerian expansive trail of the mass slaughter of Igbo military and civilians alike in north and west Nigeria regions from 29 July 1966-July 1967 to encapsulate phases I-II of the genocide timeframe. During phase-III of the genocide, the invasion of Biafra, July 1967-January 1970, Buhari was commander of a genocidist corps in north and northcentral Biafra, slaughtering to the hilt. As from 13 January 1970, beginning of phase-IV of the genocide, Buhari has adhered rigidly to or overseen the Nigeria regime’s blanket policy of non-development of occupied Biafra, the regime’s aggressive degradation of socioeconomic life in Biafra, and the regime’s exponential expropriation of the rich oil reserves of Biafra. Biafran assets looted by the occupation stand at US$1000 billion. Over time, since 13 January 1970, Buhari has exhibited a calculated, deafening silence over the course of the murder of those tens of thousands of Igbo people across Nigeria but especially in his north Nigeria homeland by regime forces/allied forces including those massacred by the Boko Haram terrorist organisation in the past six years.

So since Buhari came to power in May 2015 as a result of that US-British intervention and imposition, hundreds of Igbo people demanding the restoration of their independence and the release of several members of the freedom leadership including Nnamdi Kanu, head of the Indigenous People of Biafra and broadcaster at Biafra freedom radio, have been murdered – usually shot at sight during peaceful freedom marches by the Nigerian genocidist military and police equipped mostly with British weapons. Beginning at the Oshimili River twin city of Onicha on 2 December 2015, this orgy of massacres by the Nigerian military has spread to other Biafran cities including Asaba, Enuugwu, Igwe Ocha, Umuahia and Aba through the remaining of December and into January-March 2016. The massacres have been meticulously documented by several news organisations and individuals and human rights groups.

The 9 February 2016 Aba massacre of 22 Biafrans attending a morning prayer session in a local high school by the genocidists (International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law, Onicha, 21 February 2016) was particularly gruesome and shocking and very disturbing images from the scene have since gone viral on the internet. In a sentence, genocidist Nigeria military contingents are literally at loose in Biafra massacring and maiming defenceless people who express their inalienable right to freedom and beginning in early February (2016), they have been joined by Fulani militia terrorists rampaging swathes of villages in north, northcentral and southwest of Biafra. On a comparative note, the Nigerian genocidist troopers have attacked chosen or pre-targeted Biafran population centres with the same spontaneity, precision and virulence that a Boko Haram terrorist cell would employ in attacking fishing communities in Baga, north Nigeria, or a church in Yola (north Nigeria) or an ISIS terrorist unit would effect whilst attacking the Charlie Hebdo editorial board meeting in Paris, France, or attacking a Jewish supermarket in Paris or a rock concert in Paris or attacking an airport terminal in Brussels, Belgium, or attacking a metro train in Brussels…

Noticeably, there has been no condemnation of any of the stretch of Nigerian genocidist military attacks on the Biafran public during these past three months (launched 2 December 2015) from David Cameron’s British government. The same haunting silence pervades from the Obama administration. Not a word. In sharp contrast, when on 12 December (2015) a Nigeria military brigade operating in Zaria, northcentral Nigeria, attacked and murdered several shiite muslim protesters in a procession, there was a robust response from the US government: ‘The United States calls on the government of Nigeria to quickly, credibly, and transparently investigate these events in Zaria and hold to account any individuals found to have committed crimes’. This same US government wouldn’t, didn’t follow up with similar or any other statements of concern in the following acts of Nigerian genocidist attacks on Igbo population in Biafra: Onicha (17 December), where eight Biafrans were murdered and scores wounded; Aba (19 January 2016), where 10 Biafrans were murdered and scores wounded; Aba (9 February), where 22 were murdered and scores wounded.

‘African American son’

In introducing the section of The Atlantic interview with Obama that focuses on Israel, Jeffery Goldberg recalls a conversation between Obama and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu which perhaps captures the ‘frosty’ characterisation that many an observer has used in describing the latter’s relationship in the past seven years. ‘Obama felt that Netanyahu was behaving in a condescending fashion,’ Goldberg writes, as the Israeli leader had ‘launched into something of a lecture about the brutal region in which he lives…’ Obama retorts: ‘Bibi, you have to understand something … I’m the African American son of a single mother, and I live here, in this house. I live in the White House. I managed to get elected president of the United States. You think I don’t understand what you’re talking about, but I do.’

As I indicated at the beginning of these reflections, Africa, the African World, hardly features anywhere as a subject of focus or discussion in this interview covering Obama’s foreign policy during seven years in office as US president. The reader may therefore wonder what relevance Obama’s reference to ‘African American son’ or indeed his ‘White House’ home address during the exchange with Netanyahu has to the entire thrust of the interview beyond the record reminder, an important one that must be stressed, given the pivotal role played by the African humanity in this history, of the first person of African descent to occupy the position of president of the United States 233 years after the founding of the republic. But the focus, surely, cannot begin and just end with an African ‘entry’ in the ‘White House’! What does the occupier do whilst there in residence? How do they embody and respond to the weight of the African history antecedent? What is this African history? What has the occupier done whilst there in residence?

African Atlantic discourses

Soon after Obama’s inauguration as president in January 2009, quite a few African World scholars envisaged the reactivation, in some formats, of those democratic forums and spaces where African Atlantic discourses involving a range of outstanding intellectuals were so instrumental in launching and implementing transformative initiatives that have been of profound benefits across the African World especially in the past 300 years. Unfortunately, this reactivation hasn’t occurred and, interestingly ironical, that Netanyahu’s ‘lecture’-designation Goldberg referred to in the interview hasn’t been totally dissimilar to what some African continental heads of regime feel has been Obama’s own approach to them in their relations.

Still on the African Atlantic discourses, it is extraordinary to wish to contemplate how the intellectuals engaged in this circle would deliberate over the historic tragedy of an African-descent occupier in the ‘White House’ residence who has watched in deafening silence since 2 December 2015 as the head of the ruthless genocidist regime in Nigeria, whom he had earlier on installed in office in collaboration with the British prime minister, murders peaceful and defenceless Africans in Biafra so ghastly for a reason not any more complicated than that 7-letter word that has come to define the strategic quest of the African World for 400 years: freedom.

So, what would the following from some of the brightest minds of this assemblage think of the tragedy – Olaudah Equiano, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Edward Wilmot Blyden, Frederick Douglass, WEB Du Bois, James Baldwin, Léopold Sédar Senghor, CLR James, Eric Williams, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Chinua Achebe, Cheikh Anta Diop, John Henrik Clarke, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, George Lamming, John Coltrane, Julius Nyerere, Alain Locke, Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, Ivan Van Sertima, Aimé Césaire, Nicolás Guillén, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Mariam Makeba, Ossie Davis, Marcus Garvey, Ruby Dee, Louis Armstrong, George James, Walter Rodney, Jacob Carruthers, Toni Morrison, Théophile Obenga, King Jaja of Opobo, Duke Ellington, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Christopher Okigbo, Kwame Nkrumah, Martin Delaney, Nwafor Orizu, Bethuel Ogot, Mbonu Ojike, Amilcar Cabral, Max Roach, Bob Marley, Robert Sobukwe, George Russell, Okot p’Bitek, W Arthur Lewis, Chancellor Williams, Adu Boahen, Patrice Lumumba, Kenneth Onwuka Dike, David Diop, Adiele Afigbo, Peter Tosh, Kofi Awoonor, Molefi Kete Asante, Charles Mingus, Uche Okeke, Wangari Maathai, Ifeanyi Menkiti, Esiaba Irobi, Maurice Bishop, Dedan Kimathi, Michael Echeruo, Maulana Karenga, Alioune Diop, Eni Njoku, Ama Ata Aidoo, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Eric Dolphy, Ousmane Sembéne, Mariama Bâ, Léon-Gontram Damas, Agwuncha Arthur Nwankwo, Sydney Poitier, Abbey Lincoln, Uzo Egonu, Langston Hughes, Emmanuel Obiechina, Mariamba Ani, Thomas Sankara, Hilary Beckles.

* Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe is visiting professor in graduate programme of constitutional law at Universidade de Fortaleza, Brazil. He specialises on the state and on genocide and wars in Africa in the post-1966 epoch, beginning with the Igbo genocide, 29 May 1966-12 January 1970, the foundational and most gruesome genocide of post-(European)conquest Africa. Among his books are Longest genocide – since 29 May 1966 (forthcoming, 2016), Readings from Reading: Essays on African Politics, Genocide, Literature (African Renaissance, 2011), Biafra Revisited (African Renaissance, 2006), African Literature in Defence of History: An Essay on Chinua Achebe (Michigan State University Press, 2001), Africa 2001: The State, Human Rights and the People (International Institute for African Research, 1993), and Conflict and Intervention in Africa (Macmillan, 1990).

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