WASHINGTON (IPS)–President George W. Bush’s decision to delay a widely anticipated trip to Africa has prompted accusations from experts that Washington is growing callous to the world’s development problems.
The White House said recently that it was canceling the January 10-17 trip, which would have been Mr. Bush’s first official visit to Africa as president.
The announcement is a snub to people struggling with the continent’s heavy burdens–including HIV/AIDS, debt and civil wars–many of them fueled by U.S.-backed policies, said Africa Action in a statement.
The decision is “wholly unjustified and insensitive to those dying on the frontlines in the war on AIDS, a war more just and important than any war on Iraq, and one which George Bush refuses to acknowledge,” said Salih Booker, director of Africa Action, the oldest Africa advocacy group in Washington.
Bill Fletcher, president of Washington-based TransAfrica Forum, said the decision maintains Bush’s policy of giving Africa’s poor the cold-shoulder.
“The Bush administration has consistently demonstrated that Africa is a low priority, if a priority at all,” he said. “From the minute they took over, the Bush administration made it clear that Africa wasn’t even on their radar screen.”
Citing unnamed “domestic and international considerations,” the White House said the trip would be put off until later in 2003.
A U.S. official reportedly said the president would have to stay home to follow developments on the explosive confrontation with Iraq and to track his domestic agenda after the recent resignation of Mississippi’s Trent Lott as Senate majority leader.
Mr. Bush had been expected to visit Senegal, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Mauritius.
On his itinerary was the second annual trade and development forum between the United States and sub-Saharan nations, developed under the controversial African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), passed by U.S. lawmakers in 2000.
A few days before the White House announced it was canceling the trip, African groups, working in coalition as the Platform Against Bush Policies, said they were preparing to oppose the forum on the grounds that AGOA imposes neo-liberal conditions on poor nations in return for some access to the U.S. market.
Groups like TransAfrica and Africa Action, among many others, have previously said that it is the entire structure of U.S. policy in Africa, and not just one initiative, that damages the lives of millions of poor people on the impoverished continent.
The groups have urged U.S. officials to eliminate what they regard as Africa’s illegitimate external debt, and to boost U.S. investment in social development.
They say that the world’s richest country, and the backbone of several international financial institutions (IFIs), should also pay greater attention to health crises that are ravaging the continent, including the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
“Once again, Africa is not a priority for this White House and the Republican rulers on Capitol Hill,” Mr. Booker said. “They think they’ve addressed enough Black issues with the replacement of Lott and they callously dump Africa again.”
The Republican senator resigned as majority leader after he made comments supporting former segregationist policies in the southern United States.
Africa’s activists increasingly believe that the administration is interested only in Africa’s oil and in using its territory for Washington’s self-styled “war on terror.” They charge that the administration positions the United States as a world leader while making decisions that disregard the development of Africa.
“The U.S. government continues shamelessly to limit funding for AIDS programs in Africa and supports the pharmaceutical companies’ efforts to enforce patent laws against poor countries seeking access to affordable medicines,” Mr. Booker said.
In 2001, Washington nearly boycotted the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. The low level delegation that did attend eventually walked out, siding with the interests of its ally, Israel, at the expense of Black Americans and African nations.
This year, it is providing gigantic subsidies for its agribusiness sector, which activists say severely impair the ability of African farmers to compete or achieve agricultural development.
Earlier this summer, at the G8 summit of the eight most industrialized countries, Mr. Bush ignored Africa, which was supposed to be the main agenda item, and focused instead on Iraq, isolating Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the issue of nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union.
But what is perhaps most offensive to Africans and Africa’s activists is the failure of the United States–which is expected to spend $396.1 billion on defense alone this year and has, through its contributions to the IFIs, great influence on the economic agendas of African nations–to help fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
More than three million people died of AIDS this year worldwide, 80 percent of them in Africa.
“We ask–as people asked years ago about the Holocaust–‘how can the U.S. government know and fail to act?’ The answer appears to be racism,” Mr. Booker said. “The U.S. just doesn’t value African lives.”