Africa, African-Americans and American Politics

By: Joseph G. Bartuah

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

January 22, 2004

Once again the quadrennial political pendulum has begun to swing across the United States, as Americans exercise their enviable power conferred on them by their time-tested constitution. So far, all eyes have been anxiously focused on Iowa where the eight contenders for the Democratic Party are hoping to gain some political leverage after the January 19th caucus in that state. This will be followed by the well-publicized New Hampshire primary, which will, to some extent, set the process in focus.

In keeping with tradition, the Democratic Party and other interested groupings have been organizing several debates around the country, not only to enable the candidates market their dosage of ideas to the electorate, but to also allow potential voters bring issues that are pertinent to them to the political bargaining table.

As an African resident, one of the political rituals that recently attracted my attention was the January 11th debate in Johnston, Iowa, which was organized by the Brown and Black Forum of the African-American and Latino communities.

That debate lived up to its tagging, as the black and brown skin people thronged the venue and they posed questions which aroused their passion and concerns. There were questions about jobs, health care and immigration among others, but in my view, the Latino community was robust in quizzing the candidates.

Unlike their African-American community counterpart whose questions centered mainly on themselves, the Latino looked beyond the political horizon: they wanted some political gesture not only for themselves, but also for their Spanish and Portuguese-speaking brethren from across the border.

For example, the Latinos pressed some of the candidates whether if elected, they would give automatic citizenship to non-American Latinos who serve in the U.S. military. Another issue touched on was granting driving license to illegal residents currently working in the U.S.

To put it squarely, no African issue was brought to the fore by the African-American community as was done by the Latino community. Perhaps it was due to an oversight, or it may be a question of proximity, since the one Portuguese-speaking and 18 Spanish-speaking and countries in the Western Hemisphere are contagious to the United States while Africa is couched some 5,000 miles away from the U.S.

However, I strongly believe that any argument primarily based on proximity is frivolous in this age of technological wizardry that has made our world a global village. There is no gainsaying that the United States is the melting spot of global politics; we are no longer in a bipolar world. As the lone super power on this planet at the moment, when America sneezes the world catches cold. In other words, American politics or its policies affect the whole world and therefore, during an electoral year, it is incumbent on the various communities that are conglomerated here to highlight issues that are not only vital to their specific communities, but also to their kin and kith as well.

I have always held that every tree must have a root in order to survive. When the Hispanics are intensely seeking the interest of their brothers and sisters who mostly sneaked through the borders overnight, African-Americans on the other, must connect with their African brothers and sisters who usually arrive here as legitimate refugees, political asylees, immigrants and visitors to the U.S. They must strive to articulate their plight so as to attract public attention.

African-Americans must be proud of their rich and invaluable African heritage and consider a surging African population in the U.S as a long-term political asset rather than a sociological or demographic threat. They must therefore be prepared to strongly articulate Africa’s vital role in global politics. The pathetic economic degradation currently prevailing on the continent is inextricably linked to the prosperity of the United States. Just cogitate on the centuries of slavery and how those inhumane practices deprived the continent of its ingenious human resources, which in turn, spurred the wealth of the West.

Today, Africa lags far behind the rest of the world in terms of basic human development; the economy is in a doldrums, aids pandemic is plaguing the continent; most of the people have been pauperized by widespread anarchy euphemistically labeled as civil war. At the same time, the continent owes hundreds of billions of dollars to the Western world in past debts. In the wake of this appalling degradation on the continent, debates have been going on for several years now as to how to salvage the African situation so that the continent which hosts some 800 million members of the human species can get on its feet.

Some people propose reparation for the centuries of slavery and decades of colonization while others suggest that Africa needs a sort of Marshall Plan to radically jump-start and accelerate the socio-economic and political scenarios on the continent. There are others who insist that the opulent West should forgive the debts of impoverished Africa because after all, most of the debts actually went into the private pockets of tyrants and despots deliberately propped up by the West as their Cold War cronies. In other words, the ordinary African people did not benefit from those debts and now that the West has won the Cold War, they should waive the Cold War largesse given to their puppets.

The debate is further elevated to this tantalizing age of globalization. Some Africans loathe handout and insist that the opulent industrialized countries should pay a fair price for their commodities rather than buying goods at a peanut’s price only to dump their finished products on their continent at higher prices. Moreover, trade practices that are grossly disadvantageous to African countries must be discarded.

Like their counterparts in other parts of the world, enlightened Africans insist that globalization should not only project a predatory, carnivorous posture whereby the economic dinosaurs of the West devour their preys in the poorer countries, but must rather underscore the interdependence of the world which obliges even the rich to be their brothers keepers.

Another issue that must be of interest to African-Americans is immigration. Every year, thousands of people are allowed to immigrate to this country; African-Americans ought to be concerned as to how many people of their color are actually accorded such privileges. One of the distinctive peculiarities about democracy is that it is primarily based on quantity; African-Americans must strive not to remain a perpetual minority of numerical insignificance to the body politics of the United States. Certainly Latinos are aware that in a democracy number counts and that’s why they are striving to increase their numbers. Even as African-Americans strive to remove the stigma of stereotype on their community, they must ensure that their motherland is not viewed with contempt and disdain in American political circles. The African-American community must emulate the fine examples of other communities in this country.

The Jewish Diaspora continues to articulate the special status of Israel in American politics; Arab-Americans continue to call for justice, freedom and fairplay in the Middle East and Irish-Americans have not forgotten about the bellicose situation in Northern Ireland and so, African-Americans must not plunge African issues in the lake of oblivion. They must instead look at Africa as a reservoir of strength rather than a source of opprobrium.

Africans in the Diaspora must be in the vanguard of the debate for an African renaissance; the world cannot afford to neglect the plight of 13 percent of mankind because if it continuous to do so, the global human system will continue to malfunction, since the continuous malfunctioning of one part of the system will definitely affect the entire system.

African-Americans must help progressive Africans on the continent to nurture the seed of democracy that is now germinating in Africa. When the United States government is seen to be flirting with dictatorship such as the Lansana Conte` regime in Guinea-Conakry, African-Americans must squarely side with democracy; at prestigious political gatherings such as the Johnston debate, they must prevail on their government not to abet despotic regimes, but to assist democratic forces.

Besides, African-American entrepreneurs who have seen the light of innovation must engage their kin on the continent and demonstrate their inclination to invest in Africa.
The contemporary African-American generation must emulate the exemplary deeds of the Reverend Leon Sullivan and others and form strong partnership with the people of the continent. There are potentials on the continent that can be harnessed and optimized for the mutual benefits of Africans in Africa and those in the Diaspora.

Finally we must all realize that technological sophistication and progressive global initiatives have synchronized the world to the extent that we all must now move in tandem to achieve the ultimate goal of human development, because we are in the same boat of interdependence.

NOTE: Joseph Bartuah, a Liberian journalist currently residing in Boston, Massachusetts is formerly editor of The NEWS newspaper in Monrovia, Liberia.