John Pilger: Barack Obama, the Son of Africa claims a continent’s crown jewels
The President is leading the US at the head of a pack of western nations intent on the new scramble to exploit Africa’s resources. Their chief aim? To squeeze a China hungry for raw materials.
On 14 October, President Barack Obama announced that he was sending United States special forces to Uganda to join the civil war there. In the next few months, US combat troops will be sent to South Sudan, Congo and Central African Republic. They will "engage" only for "self-defence", says Obama, satirically. With Libya secured, an American invasion of the African continent is under way.
The press describes Obama's decision as "highly unusual" and "surprising", even "weird". It is none of these things. It is the logic of US foreign policy since 1945. Take Vietnam. The priority was to halt the alleged influence of China, an imperial rival, and "protect" Indonesia, which President Richard Nixon called "the region's richest hoard of natural resources . . . the greatest prize". Vietnam got in the way; the slaughter of more than three million Vietnamese and the devastation and poisoning of their land were the price of America achieving its goal.
As in all subsequent invasions by America, a trail of blood stretching from Latin America to Iraq and Afghanistan, the rationale was "self-defence" or "humanitarian", words long emptied of their dictionary meaning.
In Africa, says Obama, the "humanitarian mission" is to assist the government of Uganda to defeat the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which "has murdered, raped and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women and children in Central Africa". This is an accurate description of the LRA, evoking multiple atrocities administered by the US, such as the bloodbath in the 1960s following the CIA-arranged murder of Patrice Lumumba, the independence leader and first legally elected prime minister of Congo, and the CIA coup that installed Mobutu Sese Seko, regarded as Africa's most venal tyrant.
Obama's other justification also invites satire. This is the "national security of the United States". The LRA has been doing its nasty work for 24 years. Today, it has fewer than 400 fighters, and has never been weaker. However, "US national security" usually means buying a corrupt and thuggish regime that has something Washington wants. Uganda's "president-for-life", Yoweri Museveni, is already receiving the larger part of $45m in US military "aid" - including Obama's favoured drones. This is his bribe to fight a proxy war against America's latest phantom Islamic enemy, the ragtag al-Shabaab, based in Somalia. The LRA will play a public relations role, distracting western journalists with its perennial horror stories.
However, the main reason the US is invading Africa is no different from that which ignited the Vietnam war. It is China. In the world of self-serving, institutionalised paranoia that justifies what General David Petraeus, the former US commander and now CIA director, implies is a state of perpetual war, China is replacing al-Qaeda as the official "threat".
When I interviewed Bryan Whitman, a deputy assistant secretary of defence, at the Pentagon last year, I asked him to describe the current danger to America. Struggling visibly, he repeated, "Asymmetric threats . . . asymmetric threats." These justify the money-laundering, state-sponsored arms conglomerates and the biggest military and war budget in history. With Osama Bin Laden airbrushed, China takes the mantle.
Africa is China's success story. Where the Americans bring drones and destabilisation, the Chinese bring roads, bridges and dams. What they want is resources, especially fossil fuels. With Africa's greatest oil reserves, Libya under Muammar al-Gaddafi was one of China's most important sources of fuel. When civil war broke out and Nato backed the "rebels" with a fabricated story about Gaddafi planning "genocide" in Benghazi, China evacuated its 30,000 workers in Libya. The subsequent UN Security Council resolution that allowed the west's "humanitarian intervention" was explained succinctly in a proposal to the French government by the "rebel" National Transitional Council, disclosed last month in the newspaper Libération, in which France was offered 35 per cent of Libya's gross national oil production "in exchange" (the term used) for "total and permanent" French support for the NTC. Running up the Stars and Stripes in "liberated" Tripoli, the US ambassador, Gene Cretz, blurted out: "We know that oil is the jewel in the crown of Libyan natural resources."
The de facto conquest of Libya by the US and its imperial partners heralds a modern version of the "Scramble for Africa" at the end of the 19th century. Like in the "victory" in Iraq, journalists have played a critical role in distinguishing between worthy and unworthy Libyan victims. A recent Guardian front page carried a photograph of a terrified "pro-Gaddafi" fighter and his wild-eyed captors who, the caption said, "celebrate". According to General Petraeus, there are now wars "of perception . . . conducted continuously through the news media".
For more than a decade, the US has tried to establish a command on the African continent, AFRICOM, but has been rebuffed by governments fearful of the regional tensions this would cause. Libya, and now Uganda, South Sudan and Congo, provide the main chance. As WikiLeaks cables and the US National Strategy for Counter-terrorism show, American plans for Africa are part of a global design in which 60,000 special forces, including death squads, operate in 75 countries. As the then defence secretary Dick Cheney pointed out in the 1990s, America simply wants to rule the world.
That this is now the gift of Barack Obama, the "Son of Africa", is supremely ironic. Or is it? As Frantz Fanon explained in Black Skin, White Masks, what matters is not so much the colour of your skin as the power you serve and the millions you betray.