If France Is a Loser, What of Africa?

Kenyan women protest the war in Iraq
Kenyan women protest the war in Iraq and the U.S. media coverage of it (Photo: Simon Maina/AFP-Getty Images).

Clare Short’s [the former British international development secretary who resigned on May 12 to protest British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s foreign policy in Iraq—WPR] assessment of Pax Americana had better be wrong. Otherwise, the marauding U.S. foreign policy could inflict economic catastrophe upon every economy in Africa and other underdeveloped parts of the world. That is why Africa should pray for a motherly U.S. foreign policy.

Short made an alarming allegation against Blair. The allegation amounts to the accusation that Pax Americana—a world ruled according to the wishes of the U.S. president (with the “reckless” support of Blair)—is ruinous to the global majority. The accusation is significant in view of statements from various African rulers, such as President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. According to a report in The Monitor, a privately owned Ugandan daily, Museveni recently stated: “If you are poor, you are not sovereign.”

Poverty is, of course, relative. For instance, France, whose gross national product per capita is about US$24,000, is rich, relative to all African economies. On the other hand, the United States, whose economy is about six times greater than that of its French counterpart, could view France as a poor member of the G-7 club, the association of the world’s seven most-industrialized economies. Indeed, France’s relative poverty renders support to Museveni’s intimation that poverty and sovereignty are mutually exclusive.

According to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, the countries that will “face the consequences” for not supporting the U.S.-led war against Iraq include France.

France? Yes, the United States intends to castigate France for exercising its sovereignty with regard to a murky war. If France—one of the world’s biggest economies—can be threatened, how about countries like Uganda? The obvious answer to that question was probably articulated by Baroness Valerie Amos, whom Blair later chose to replace Short, when Amos visited several African members of the United Nations Security Council before the outbreak of the Iraq war.

If the Iraq war has hammered home the “new reality” of hollow sovereignty, then Africa would be well advised to pray for proof that Short is mistaken. That proof can be derived from the success of the United States (and its British sidekick) in instituting a sustainable and prosperous democracy in Iraq. In the straightforward words of Powell, the United States intends to have “significant dominating control” over the postwar government in Iraq.

If the postwar Iraqi government turns out to be an enviable model to the underdeveloped economies, then the loss of sovereignty could become such a puny price that most Africans would welcome the idea of trading in their national flags for the Stars and Stripes (or even the Union Jack). On the other hand, if the Iraqi government turns out to be essentially a commission agent for U.S. economic interests at the expense of ordinary Iraqis, then Short would be proved right. If that happens, Africans would have no choice but to internalize that Millie Jackson hit song about making the best of a bad situation.

Some pundits have argued that Africa’s situation is so bad that even a marauding U.S. foreign policy cannot make it worse off. Others have argued that Africa may be reduced to the circumstances of a woman who, on the verge of being assaulted, begs the rapist to use a condom. Such a sickening outlook may undo even the little economic progress in economies such as Uganda’s.

According to The Monitor, President Museveni, one of the World Bank’s star performers, expressed doubt about the suitability of  World Bank-endorsed economic policies. Unfortunately, in the world of the World Bank, whose major shareholder is the United States, a star performer has to follow the script even if he doubts its quality.

It is a world akin to “Hotel California,” a hit song by the Eagles. According to the song, “Welcome to the Hotel California….You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” If we have to live in an American-designed world, we can only hope and pray that it is better than Short’s portrayal of Pax Americana.