Apes Obey, But No Free Lunch in Washington
By Owei Lakemfa
The United States invited or summoned 49 African presidents to Washington, DC, for a summit from December 13–15, 2022. There was 100 per cent attendance. However, it unilaterally excluded six African countries, and none of the invited countries protested this exclusion.
The body language from the African presidents was that everybody was on their own, therefore, there could be no talk about the African Brotherhood. The US tried to rationalise its decision. For instance, it claimed that Guinea, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Sudan were not invited because their leaders did not emerge through elections.
If this were true, why was Chad’s leader, General Mahamat Deby who overthrew the government on April 20, 2021, and dissolved the elected parliament, invited? In which general election was factional Libyan President Mohammed al-Menfi elected?
The simple reason is that these four countries have spiralled out of the control of the West. Guinea’s leader, Mamady Doumbouya, overthrew President Alpha Conde on September 5, 2021, and has refused to conform even after sanctions were imposed. After Malian leader, Colonel Assimi Goita overthrew President Ibrahim Boubakar Keita, he accused the West of looting the resources of the country and prolonging the war against terrorists.
He then took the unprecedented step of bringing in Russian-led mercenaries. He had crossed the red line. It is that same line that Burkinabe leader, Captain Ibrahim Traore, is accused of crossing. As for Sudan, it is not so much how the government emerged, as that it has so far refused to hand over former President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to the West for persecution.
This was what Cote d’Ivoire did with former President Laurent Gbagbo and, Nigeria with former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who was on an African Union-guaranteed exile. Since Eritrea has normal constitutional elections, the US concocted a different reason for barring that country; that their diplomatic relations are not fully consummated.
This is laughable as the US has its embassy at 179, Alaa Street, Asmara. The Americans did not even bother to give an excuse for barring the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara), which has been a full member of the African Union since 1982. For the arrogant American establishment, that country simply does not exist!
As is often the case with such summits, the African countries, which outnumbered the US 49-1, had no agenda of their own. The US was at liberty to set one. What it did was set aside the first day for papers, NGOs, gists, banter, and photo opportunities. On the second day, which was the primary reason for the summit, the Americans divided the African countries into basic units and set up teams of officials and businessmen and women in each country.
This was called the US-Africa Business Forum, or USABF. As the Africans signed billion dollar contracts within minutes, I wondered whether these contracts had been previously studied by both sides. If it had, why empty the African continent of all its leaders at once, just to come and sign agreements that had been reached previously?
I do not know how many African presidents at the summit truly believed that it was a meeting of “partners” or that the Americans were being truthful when they claimed it was all about increased cooperation with Africa on shared global priorities. Almost all the agreements were signed, but the summit outcome put a lie to this.
The US was not interested in the priorities of Africa, such as building basic infrastructure like railways, roads, seaports, or human capital development. Rather, they were mainly the same priorities the colonialists had when they came to Africa; exploitation of African minerals, preferably in their raw form with no value-addition, and markets for their goods and services. The only difference is that in this case, no human cargo is involved.
The detailed agreements reveal that America will acquire cobalt, copper, and nickel mines in Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania; Angola will award contracts to Americans for bridge construction; South Africa will assemble more Ford cars; Nigeria will purchase American energy storage systems; and, overall, America will fund the export of goods and services to Africa. President Joe Biden was not joking when, in his remarks at the Summit, he told the African presidents: “Look, this forum is about building connections. It’s about closing deals.” And the deals that were closed were 95 per cent in favour of the US.
The summit reminds me of the 19th Century American salons where, with the purchase of drinks, customers were given free lunches. But unknown to the latter, the cost of the ‘free’ lunch had been factored into the drinks. So there was an implicit cost in the ‘free lunch’. This gave rise to the American saying: ‘There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.’
The summit was not without its theatrics. Ghana, an official satellite of the US which also hosts the American military base in West Africa, sees itself as the supervisor of its American masters in Africa. It is what, during slavery in America, was called ‘The House Negro’. These were slaves who lived in the slave master’s house eating crumbs from the table and who loved the master than the master loved himself. They were also the eyes of the master watching over those slaving in the fields, who were called the ‘Field Negro’.
In playing the role of the House Negro, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo came to the summit to snitch on its neighbour, Burkina Faso. He reported to the Americans: ”Burkina Faso has now made an arrangement to, like Mali, use Wagner (Russian) forces. I believe a mine in southern Burkina has been allocated to them as a form of payment for their services… Russian mercenaries are at the northern border” of Ghana. Let’s assume, without conceding, that Akufo-Addo’s claims are true; how is that the business of the US? Is it to get America to invade Burkina Faso for ditching the double-dealing French forces for Russian forces?
What was most astonishing to me is that Akufo-Addo did not raise this issue with his neighbour and did not, even as a lawyer, confirm the veracity of his claims before rushing to Washington. In the Lagos of my youth, whenever labourers were gathered, or people had to lift heavy objects, the cry “Oshebe!” would ring out and the others would answer “Eh!” Then the work began in earnest.
I learnt that this was how the colonial supervisors ordered the colonised to work, especially when the work is forced or cheap labour. I also later realised that the word “Oshebe!” was the corruption of the words “Apes obey”. In a partnership, our duty as Africans cannot just be to obey task masters.