US President Bill Clinton's forthcoming tour of Africa brings to a head a frenetic period of American activity in Africa over recent months. What is behind this new found interest in Africa? Are the motives purely benign or is a new rape of African resources on the cards?
Ugandan civil servant Mr Festus Muyanja was irritated. "Am I in Kampala or Atlanta?" he asked impatiently, waiting behind yet another American dignitary's entourage at the Sheraton Kampala's Lion restaurant.
As the old colonial powers, Britain, France, Portugal and Belgium beat a hasty retreat from Africa, the United States is rushing in. Angola, Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- even the most obscure African countries are appearing on every Clinton official's itinerary. Is all this diplomatic frenzy supporting a coordinated American foreign policy agenda? Or is it driven by far less noble, even colonialist, economic objectives? What is the real motive when this flurry of state department attention is preceded by highly leveraged American corporations signing questionable mineral, communications, and financial deals?
US newspapers and media have been full of such announcements. A few examples: 'American Mineral Fields Corporation of Arkansas in billion dollar mineral deal'; 'New Millennium Investment Inc. of Washington signs Congo telecommunications agreement'; and 'The Leon Tempelsman and Son Investment Group proposes Angolan diamond operation'. Grandiose financial statements follow with almost frantic regularity. And most of the corporations announcing these deals carry heavyweight lobbyists from both sides of the American political spectrum. Barrick Gold Corporation, a Canadian-American conglomerate which recently announced an 83,000 square kilometre concession in Congo's Kivu province is typical. This influential international mining developer has ex-President George Bush as senior adviser to its international board. Republican ex-Secretary of State, James Baker, Mr Bush's point man in pulling together the Gulf war coalition, is also on the same Barrick Gold advisory panel.
The Democrats are just as involved. Through their Citizens Energy International Inc. the Kennedy family has interests in Continental Oil Co's Angolan oil exploration projects despite the area being an active war zone. The Kennedy connection to Democrat fund contributor Mr Maurice Tempelsman is also reported to have facilitated support for his company's Angolan diamond proposal from state department and former national security adviser, Mr Anthony Lake. Mr Lake even instructed a senior deputy to call the US Export-Import bank about possible financing for the deal despite the fact that it violates federally mandated guide-lines prohibiting the bank from guaranteeing import/export financing to areas wracked by civil disobedience. The tragic New Year's day skiing accident of Citizens Energy International chairman Mr Michael Kennedy may now erode Kennedy support for this project however.
As if all this commercial and political pressure on the state department to support certain African governments, be they democratic or despotic, weren't enough, the US military is also a player. "African governments recognise our military expertise," a Pentagon spokesman emphasised when questioned about American training teams ensconced as permanent fixtures in Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia as well as half a dozen other African countries...