Reinventing Africa as a Country

By Liepollo Pheko · 6 Sep 2011

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Picture credit: Fotopedia
Picture credit: Fotopedia

Africa is again becoming a “country” in the popular discourse of Western media intent on rebranding the entire continent as the eternal basket case. 

Despite North Africa’s Arab Spring (which has inspired a global movement against corrupt and undemocratic leadership) and the birth of Africa’s 54th state, Southern Sudan (the result of the Sudanese people’s will expressed via a referendum), the idea of Africa as an uninterrupted landscape of human suffering and political failure remains steadfast in Western media discourse.

This perspective is anchored in the tried and tested method of presenting this vast, diverse and in many instances breathtakingly beautiful continent paradoxically, as a homogenous mass of starving people stranded on barren lands under the yoke of despotic leadership and deadly diseases…Thus also implying that Western intervention is necessary and even noble.

One need just recall Hollywood’s cinematic forays into Africa. Hollywood presents a clichéd view of Africa as the hot and humid continent that’s a breeding ground for corruption, teeming with despotic leaders and malfunctioning governments. Of course, the longsuffering victims of this merciless continent are always ready for rescue by noble white protagonists who parachute in to save the day. Think Blood Diamonds, The Interpreter, Fair Game and the Bang Bang Club.

Branding Africa as the basket case of the world is nothing new, but the timing of this particular wave bears careful scrutiny together with the West’s geo-political, military and economic interests.  

A CNN programme last weekend dedicated thirty minutes to American journalists’ anguish about “Africa’s plight,” replete with classic ‘Brand Africa’ imagery of war and hunger. There wasn’t a trace of strong African voices to counter the victimhood on display and certainly no mention of the mess left by America in Somalia twenty years ago. At exactly the same time, a local news channel was providing a vibrant account of the sterling work of the South African humanitarian agency “Gift of the Givers” in Somalia, as told, designed and led by Africans. It was a challenging situation, but nowhere near helpless.

Having weathered America’s recession better than many other regions, its ironic that the picture of “Africa the scar” re-emerges at a time when most African economies are growing faster than at any time since the days of Structural Adjustment and more consistently than anywhere else in the world. Many countries, including South Africa, Nigeria and Angola have also made noteworthy investments in infrastructure.

Africa is possibly one of the best places to be on the planet. Yet it is presented as dependent and despondent in order to justify and rationalise the incursions on our sovereignty and resources.

The rebranding also comes at a time when European economies are faltering and when their citizens’ anger requires aggressive penetration into external markets to rehabilitate failed European governments and force open new market opportunities, including in Africa. Where Europe’s Economic Partnership Agreements may have failed, propaganda and some bombs may just do the trick.

The newly installed Transnational National Council [TNC] in Libya is an intriguing assemblage. Some reports suggest very few Libyans can even name the leadership of the TNC much less its mandate or vision for Libya. In typical form, the recent meeting in Paris, where global leaders decided upon Libya’s future, was covered by a CNN journalist who asked whether it was of any significance that South Africa chose to stay away from the meeting. An American analyst replied that the absence of a few Africans is unimportant since countries like Russia, the US, the UK, Algeria, China and Germany were there to shape Libya’s future.

Shortly after, Al Jazeera reported the unashamed jostling at the Paris meeting for lucrative tenders to “rebuild” Libya. It couldn’t have looked more like the Berlin Conference of the 1800’s that carved Africa up, entrenched the colonialist agenda and dislocated the continent from determining its own destiny. 

Already multinationals and finance institutions such as the World Bank are lining up to do business with both Egypt and Libya. And while western leaders throw money at the transitional leaders of these emerging democracies, Egyptian civil society is rightly questioning the motives of Western countries that less than a year ago were happy to prop up both Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi. Kinda Mohamadieh, of the Arab NGO Network for Development warns that transitional governments are not appropriate vehicles for long-term economic adjustments and could be consigning their successors to harsh neo-liberal policies that cannot be easily escaped.

Moreover, a military foothold in Africa is a long-term strategy of the US. Having observed the result of military invasions across Central and Latin America as well as the geo-military chaos in the Middle East, African countries rightly refused to host the much-reviled Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2008. AFRICOM was rejected by every African country except Liberia, but seems likely to be back on the agenda as imperialist mayhem is once again sowed in an effort to force the African continent into hosting the American military presence. The attempt to import the chaos of the Middle East into Africa is just the justification needed to prop up ‘Brand Africa’ as the hapless victim and to start making moves on Somalia, Sudan and the Great Lakes region.

While claiming that it wants to reduce its military influence abroad, the US unconvincingly asserts that AFRICOM will support “leadership and peace building.” But when AFRICOM first emerged on the scene, Theresa Whelan, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for African Affairs was far more candid about America’s true intentions. “Natural resources represent Africa’s current and future wealth, but in a fair market environment, many benefit,” she said.

The recent invasion of Libya and the NATO inspired regime change is playing itself out as a clear and tragic replica of the fall of Iraq. The architecture of Iraq’s fall was built around myths and half-truths. Just as the “War on Terror” was the excuse the US needed to wreak havoc on civilians in Iraq under the cloak of “liberating” them from a despotic leader, so too has “freeing” Libyans provided a tenuous but determined foothold for the exploitation of the country’s oil wealth.

It seems inevitable that after Libya, the unholy Western alliance will pursue Algeria, with its huge energy resources and cash reserves. Again, imperial media mythology ignores patently self-interested motives for invading sovereign states and subverting African led processes. Instead, Western media propagate the myths of the “official” storyline, which in Libya’s case included the bizarre claim that Gaddafi’s soldiers were Viagra drugged to perpetrate mass rape. With no evidence other than an unverifiable, fuzzy cell phone video, Hillary Clinton and Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, peddled this lie even while Amnesty International reported that they had found no such evidence.

Manufacturing illegitimate wars in Africa to galvanise Western economies that are still in depression can only accelerate Western decline. Foreign invasion and war mongering are expensive and neo-imperialism has left Western countries practically bankrupt. America alone has a debt of $US14,000 trillion, while  France, Great Britain and Italy each have enormous public deficits compared to less than US$400 billion in public debt for 46 of the 54  African countries combined.

While Western media houses continue their complicity in promoting  ‘anti history’, the African continent as opposed to “Africa, the basket case” is ascending.

Cameroonian, Jean-Paul Pougala, sums it up perfectly in an article on why the West went after Gaddafi when he writes, “As the American economist Adam Smith predicted in 1865 when he publicly backed Abraham Lincoln for the abolition of slavery, ‘the economy of any country which relies on the slavery of blacks is destined to descend into hell the day those countries awaken’.”

Liepollo Lebohang Pheko is Executive Director at NGO/think-tank, the Trade Collective and is Africa co-convener of the World Dignity Forum.

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Comments

Deon Olivier
8 Sep

Africa

Slavery happend almost two hundred years ago but the likes of you and Robert Mugabe still enforce slavery of Africans by Africans in the Zimbabwe diamond fields.

Nobody is manufacturing wars in africa other than revolutionary forces like the ANC Youth League and other barbarian African political structures.

Black africans seem to have a permanent intellectual age of 11 year olds and refuse to acknowledge that communism is a complete and utter failure. You cling to failure and can't understand why you remain failures and don't tell me Zimbabwe is a nirvana.

Where do you stay?

I would like to meet you for a chat.

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sam moyo
8 Sep

Comment on the Basket Case Brand

What an excellent integration of the way contemporary imperialism is recolonising Africa. Who's next after Algeria?

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One Soldier
8 Sep

@ Deon Olivier

Thank you for your comment. It's robust, but patently misguided and feeds into the very narcisistic sense of white entitilment that the article speaks about. Who are 'Black Africans'? Not sure what polite reponse there is to anybody who consigns all Black people to 11 year old intellect. Would be amazed if the Brilliant Ms. Pheko agreed to meet you anywhere other than in the company of police officers perhaps. You sound too much like a certain Visagie...

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H Hlongwane
8 Sep

Rebranding Africa

An excellent piece. The defensive stance of Deon Olivier is only because Liepollo is on point as always. And I am very wary of your asking the lady where she stays to meet for a chat. How intrusive. Why would she want to meet a complete stranger much less one who is so hostile? Come on.

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Gomario
8 Sep

Problem with Africa

The problem with sub Saharan Africa is with the Africans themselves! The author of the above text salad is supposed to be an "African think tank", yet my 15 year old son can write better/more lucid. Nature is not on their side - unfortunately. Did you knew, the average sub Saharan African, has a 10% smaller brain. In particular the cortex is visibly smaller. An IQ of 75-80 is considered normal in a sub Saharan African. In Europe, people below 80 are mentally handicapped and enrolled in special schools! That much for reasoning power . . . As Albert Einstein once said - "There is no substitute for intelligence" and "Intelligence and not the atomic bomb,is the ultimate weapon!" Makes one think doesn't it?

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Nomad
9 Sep

Comment on the Basket...

The total overhaul of the present political, social, religious and economic structures remain the only way out for Africa. Needing the products of the West and remaining in their 1800's created boxes, leaves little sense that they have matured any bit. Good article Pheko.

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TheDrake
9 Sep

Africa is Sick and Unimportant in Global Terms

Suddenly the

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T Baker
9 Sep

Rebranding Africa

This article is excellent and the reason that readers like Deon and Gomario resort to cheap insults and patently racist responses is that the reasoning, the facts and the line of articulation are very clear. That they are so hot under the collar is evidence of the writer's prowess. Would the fifteen year old be a good writer by virute of his whiteness? The problem with Africa is with misinformed, arrogant white people - and I am White - who fundamentally feel entitled to the resources, entitled to a say in the governance and entitled to be as offensive as they wish. I am ashamed. And indeed...why does this Deon person want to meet the lady? Perhaps the moderators of this page should be more cautious about the sort of comments posted?

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Thandeka
9 Sep

Africa oh Africa

Liepollo Pheko has hit it on the head. I guess that's why the bigots are coming out to play. The stats and the logic follow and any one can see that Libya is about oil and tenders. Even somebody with an IQ of 80....or a 15 year old. Go Pheko...you are what Africa needs. Courage, intellect and grace under fire.

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Sister Grace
9 Sep

Africa the Country

This is a brilliant article. I hope that Africans can wake up and smell the coffee. The second scramble is here and we cannot sit back and allow the West to again throttle our aspirations. And remind me - why is sovereignty a dirty word? And what's arrogant about that again? Or are only Europeans and Americans entitled to tell Africa how to govern themselves while Africans stand as bystanders? And since when did FDI build an economy on its own without state intervention? Tell them Sister Pheko and don't stop.

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