Ever wondered what emboldened some of the most vicious despots in Africa? It was and still is the greenback. While China has already been chided for its engagement with totalitarian states in the continent, people conveniently forget the most culpable country: The United States of America. America has a strange need to point accusatorial fingers at Africa (and the rest of the world) and give patronising lectures on being a democracy. It is particularly telling that the self-aggrandizing America is associated with some of the worst leaders to emerge on the African continent. What democracy can America lecture anyone on when it facilitates for the erosion of the same in Africa?
A 1997 article “Victims Describe Mobutu’s Long Reign of Torture” details the chilling experiences of Jose Sambayi Mukendi, a victim of Mobutu Sese Seko’s ruthless rule in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire). Mukendi was arrested at his home one night and taken to an underground cell at a military base in Kinshasa where he was stripped naked and stretched out on the floor. He was then beaten with a stick with nails protruding from the end. The most disturbing part is the article’s assertion that, “Mukendi’s tale is not uncommon in Mobutu’s Zaire.” Co-Author of a book-length report on Zaire called “Repression on Policy”, Peter Rosenblum then commented, “Mobutu is a master of terror and of using it on a grand scale. I don’t think anywhere else in Africa has there been a longstanding dictator so rapacious and so destructive.”
It is this Mobutu; a true devil incarnate that the United States was friends with. A 1997 report by The Independent read, “Despite human rights abuses and his use of his position to enrich himself, Mr Mobutu became the darling of the United States and others in the West as a buffer against the Communist bloc.”
The Chicago Tribunal also highlighted that critics said blame for Mobutu’s dictatorial tendencies had to be apportioned to his Western backers “including U.S. officials, who turned a blind eye to his abuses after helping him gain power in a military coup in 1965. Even the Carter administration, which championed human rights as a foreign policy priority, gave Mobutu the bulk of America’s African aid in the late 1970s.”
In 1986, Mobutu was referred to as “a voice of good sense and good will” by then American President, Ronald Reagan. A New York Times opinion piece argued, “One of Mr. Mobutu’s virtues is continuity. For two crisis-ridden decades, he has presided over a huge country bordering on nine others in the heart of Africa. Western companies have mined its cobalt, copper, industrial diamonds.” They loved him. He allowed them to exploit his country, serve as a bulwark against communism while he got to stay in power and torment his people. Doesn’t this sound like an America First policy?
In the 1980s, America also helped bring former Chadian leader, Hissene Habre to power in a bid to curtail Muammar Gaddafi’s influence. According to Human Rights Watch, the United States, “…provided critical military support to his insurgency and then to his government, even as it committed widespread and systematic human rights violations…”
Habre assumed power on June 7, 1982 thanks to United States of America’s aid thus helping him establish his totalitarian hold on power. HRW says, “During Habre’s rule from 1982 to 1990, his government was responsible for widespread political killings, systematic torture, thousands of arbitrary arrests, and the targeting of particular ethnic groups.”
Regardless of such manifest evil, America “helped him (Habre) to maintain power with military aid, training, intelligence, and political support”.
Decades after, America is still hypocritical as ever. It is friends with Chad’s Idriss Deby because he is helping the West in the fight against Boko Haram. In addition, former American leader, Barack Obama posed for a photo with Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, a known despot while back in 2003, Condoleezza Rice referred to him as “a good friend”. Mbasogo replied, “We have extremely good relations with the United State. Our country has had good relations with the United States for a very long time and my visit here is simply in order to consolidate and also to establish further ties of cooperation with your country.”
The New York Times also carried an article that acknowledged, “Officially and unofficially, Americans do business with one of the undisputed human rights global bad boys, Equatorial Guinea, Africa’s fourth biggest oil exporter.”
In Mbasogo’s Equatorial Guinea, Manfred Nowak, former UN special rapporteur on torture said, “They don’t even hide the torture instruments.”
The USA also associates with leaders good for all other purposes save for respect of democracy and human rights like Paul Kagame. The list goes on and on but the point has been made: America has been empowering African dictators since the 1960s thus creating a democratic crisis that still affects several countries. Patronising American speeches on democracy are therefore most unwelcome seeing it has been funding dictatorship and despotism.