Monday, 14 July 2003

Heart of darkness

Africa has too many miseries for America alone to address

by Eric Margolis


Illustrating the maxim that all politics are local, American politicians used to lavish attention during election years on "the three I's" - Israel, Ireland and Italy. Today, Israel remains in first place, but thanks to demographic changes, Africa and Mexico have replaced Ireland and Italy.

Last week, President George Bush, who is campaigning for re-election, voyaged to Africa on a self-described mission to promote democracy and combat AIDS, terrorism and poverty. Before leaving, Bush, whose strong suit is not geography, proclaimed, "Africa is a nation with a lot of diseases."

Bush's African trip may win away a few black votes from the Democrats. Bill Clinton made a similar pre-election media safari, but Bush's trip was aimed more at some of his missionary minded, Bible Belt core supporters, riled up by their preachers' dire warnings that Islam is devouring sub-Saharan Africa.

The trip was also about securing new, non-Mideastern oil supplies for America's insatiable appetite for energy and opening up the world's last big, untapped market to U.S. business.

Bush's promise of $15 billion US to combat AIDS in Africa was a laudable, desperately needed effort that may help counteract the negative worldwide image of the U.S. that Bush has fostered.

But when the Great White Father from Washington has returned home, Africa's problems will continue to fester. Liberia, the focus of attention today, is an egregious example. The West African state was founded in 1847 by freed American slaves. The ex-slaves, in a telling comment on human nature, promptly enslaved local tribes, formed a dynasty and turned the country into a plantation. The "American" oligarchy was overthrown in a bloody 1980 coup by an illiterate, syphilitic soldier, Master Sgt. Samuel K. Doe.

Before Doe, the decrepit capital, Monrovia (named after James Monroe, U.S. president from 1817-25), had a whiff of civilization. The demented Doe brought in fellow tribesmen from the Stone Age interior, turning Liberia into an even scarier, more wretched place than Idi Amin's Uganda or Papa Doc's Haiti.

President Ronald Reagan received Doe at the White House, unfortunately referring to him as "My very good friend, Chairman Mo."

Doe was overthrown in 1990 by rebels led by former U.S. resident Charles Taylor, and forced, while being videotaped, to eat his ears and other body parts, then killed.

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