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Clinton in Africa: Promoting US corporate interests

Firoze Manji

2009-08-06, Issue 445

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There are 6 comments on this article.

cc Marc N
International media attention is focused this week on the visit of the US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, to seven countries in Africa. But what is the significance of Clinton’s visit? Does it really hold out hope for Africa? There are three dimensions to this visit: AGOA, oil and natural resource exploitation, and security. And in each case, it is US corporate interests, not the interests of Africans, that are being pushed, argues Firoze Manji from Pambazuka News.

International media attention is focused this week on the visit of the US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, to seven countries in Africa. Judging by the behaviour of representatives of many African governments, there are great expectations that this visit – following so closely after President Obama’s two earlier visits to Egypt and Ghana – holds out vast hope for Africa.

But what is the significance of Clinton’s visit? Does it really hold out hope for Africa? There are three dimensions to this visit: The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA); oil and natural resource exploitation; and security.

In all three dimensions, the focus is on providing guarantees for US corporate interests. As Steve Ouma Akoth explains in this issue of Pambazuka News, despite its name as the AFRICAN Growth and Opportunity Act, the principle beneficiaries of what is exclusively a US government act are American corporations who will gain from the exploitation of cheap African labour. Yes, the latter will get ‘jobs’, but pitifully paid jobs. And in an environment where there is little choice, African workers are forced to accept that being exploited is a better option than not being exploited by American corporate interests.

With China, India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Russia and other emerging powers competing for access to Africa’s natural resources, including oil, there is little doubt that the US belligerence during the era of the Bush junta has potentially created conditions favourable to the new players. Clinton’s visit is directly related to seeking to protect and advance American corporate interests in oil and natural resource exploitation in Africa. Angola provides some 7 per cent of US oil imports, closely followed by Nigeria, both countries being part of Clinton’s itinerary. Cosying up to South Africa – both because of its wealth and because it has become a serious economic power in the rest of the continent – is hardly surprising.

And that brings us to the third dimension. This visit is also about negotiating for AFRICOM to have greater presence in Africa. It is hardly a coincidence that just as Clinton begins her junket, so AFRICOM announces its MEDFLAG initiative in Swaziland. As Thomas Friedman once put it: 'The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas … And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.'

And once again, something that is entirely a US creation is marketed as something putatively African: ‘African Command’ does not mean Africans in command, just as the African Growth and Opportunity Act is not about growth and opportunity for Africa, but rather for US corporations. Security is high on the agenda. But it is the security of US corporate interests that is at the heart of Clinton’s agenda, not human security, the security of ordinary people to thrive, to be secure that their children will be safe from impoverishment, secure in the knowledge that they will be able to work; and working, to transform their world to serve the interests of humanity, not the narrow interests of a minority in the North.


* Firoze Manji is editor in chief of Pambazuka News.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

Readers' Comments

Let your voice be heard. Comment on this article.

Excellent unearthing of the hidden motives of US policy towards Africa. I sincerely hope that Africans who are privileged to be enlightened and recognise the insidious nature of first world policies towards poor african countries will arise, become educated and make a difference in their communities.


An old saying asserts that "weak buttocks ruin the runner."America is merely trying to firm Her butts in as much as China is also creaping into our backyards through all dubious methods. i think it is only rational for us Africans to apply Solomonic wisdom and keep on resisting all this interference.Long Live Africa!!!

Tefo Kebabope (Personal Capacity)

Without denying the truth in what you write about Hillary's visit - extensively discussed also in this blog by Bill Easterly - Hillary Clinton is working hard to bring women's issues to the table, she does so with integrity, coherence and courage, and I admire her for it. On Tuesday, she will visit Goma in Eastern DRC and visit HEAL Africa, an organisation that provides care for rape survivors. She will spend one hour in a round table discussion with women's rights activists.
Neither her husband nor Bush or Rice ever came to DRC - they preferred to visit Rwanda, instead. With regard to the issues between Rwanda and DRC, it is huge that she brings this attention to DRC, and recognizes the struggle of women here. Some elements that shouldn't be missing from the story.

Desiree Zwanck

Excellent contribution by Steve Ouma Akoth, it perhaps could have been simpler put. Today, Africans are Infoaware in the age of twits and as such, recognise an empty gesture like AGOA for what it really is. My concern, however is AFRICOM. I still do not get the hostility to its existence. African leaders are afraid of it. Why?

The US might not have been built on a clean sheet and its aging infrastructure might be crumbling but it functions. Its use of technology has meant a majority gets to live unlike in Africa. In Nigeria for example where $50Million per day is lost to oil bunkering. AFRICOM can be the ticket for recycling that huge pile of cash. Africa may not benefit from AGOA since we need our own products anyway. But outsourcing our trash, like security to AFRICOM does make sense.

Beauty, Nigeria, What´s new?

One thing the writer left out is the issue of playing the balancing power act.China is making very serious headways into Africa and the US want to balance by being selective.
It is a new cold war situation developing and like in the last Africa will not benefit much if at all.
The African Opprotunity act is only to secure the vested interest of the US and balance the influence by seeming to invest when in fact it is going to be exploitation .This is both ways as the Chinese themselves will only exploit.

Mohamed Boye Jallo Jamboria

While the Secretary puts out the flowery language, the Assistant Secretary of State is more blunt about the reasons for the choice of countries:

"[The] Secretary will move on to Angola. Angola is one of the largest energy producers in Sub-Saharan Africa and is a major supplier of both petroleum and LNG to the U.S. market ... [After the Congo, the] Secretary will fly to Abuja, Nigeria. Nigeria is probably the most important country in Sub-Saharan Africa: 140 million people, 75 million of whom are Muslims. It is also a major source of petroleum imports for the United States."

Nick J.

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