Western-backed dictator Gen. Museveni. Now that Mobutu is long dead he’s become the number one agent of imperialism and betrayal in Africa. Photo: File.
Why do Western nations support dictatorships in Africa? The short answer is because the West finds it easier to control corrupt African dictators than ideologically and politically conscious leaders committed to the development of African countries and their defense and sovereignty.
The more complex and nuanced answers are philosophical, historical, and intellectual. In broad terms, the Western leaders’ support for African dictators is grounded on ideological continuity of the destructive economic and political strategies engineered during the colonial period to subjugate the continent. The same modus of operation of the colonial era are still in place in post-colonial African states.
The colonial policies created slave, and slave-like economies. Legalized slavery and colonization were reinforced by military force, and financial and political leverages, based on Western culture, religion and God. Control of African states by the West continued—and continues—long after formal political independence of the former African colonies.
The British and French colonial dictatorships in Africa were based on white Supremacy, racism, and forceful imposition of Western culture, religion, and God. The colonial objective was to denigrate Black culture, spirituality, and history. The colonial bureaucracy created subservient leaders who were ideologically trained to later function as imperialist agents serving the interests of the former colonialists.
At independence African states inherited these colonial laws, institutions, religion, and God. For example, the colonial laws were used in Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Kenya to steal land from Africans and to give them to whites. These laws continued to apply long after independence.
The institutions that have continued to undermine effective independence and sovereignty of Africa included the United Nations (UN), and advocates of predatory capitalism, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
The UN system is skewed against Africa, especially through the use of veto powers which allows the permanent members of the Security Council—the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, and China—to override the positions of all the other members combined. The entire African continent is denied the veto power. The West uses the veto powers to punish non-compliant African leaders and to reward those who serve Western interests.
Resolutions targeting Africa are often adopted by the Security Council with the support of African states. For example, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973(2011) authorizing use of force in Libya, which was the pretext for the West to overthrow and kill Col. Muammar al-Gadhafi, was adopted with the support of Gabon, Nigeria, and South Africa. Without the votes of the three African States, the UN Security Council votes would have failed to meet the minimum nine votes required because Russia, China, Germany, Brazil, and India abstained. If Africa, through the African Union (AU) had acted to protect one of their members, there would have been no legal basis for NATO to attack Libya, destroy the country and unleash the violence that spread throughout North Africa and into West Africa.
The IMF and the World Bank are used to reward African leaders who protect Western interests with capital and finance and to punish those who do not cooperate. At the same time, even those countries provided with financing end up paying a high price—they are subjected to Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP). The SAPs of the 1980s and the 1990s destroyed African economies by privatizing public properties and utilities and using globalization as a cover for Western companies to take over control of Africa’s economies. Many of these public companies and utilities were vital for Africa’s development. Several years later, after having forced African states to surrender key public establishments while incurring unpayable debt, most Western economists admitted that SAP and globalization were failed experiments that did more damage than good for Africa.
The Western domination of Africa also extends to religion. The Western religion and God play an exceptionally critical role in governance in Africa. Religious leaders, funded by Western churches and institutions are capable of bringing down an African government that does not pay allegiance to the Pope in Rome, or the Archbishop of the Church of England at Canterbury, or the Evangelicals in the United States. The Catholic and Protestant churches have great influence in the politics and social life of the former French and British colonies. Western religion and God were used as instruments to colonize Africa and continue to be used to dominate the continent.
In our contemporary era, African states have not been able to marshal the political and financial muscles to break away from the political, economic, and religious dominance of the West.
Historically, the African leaders who resisted Western powers and sought true independence were vilified, undermined or eliminated. The economies of countries whose leaders were not submissive were destroyed. Guinea’s economy, under Ahmed Sekou Toure was undermined after he stood up to France. In Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah promoted industrialization and African unity; the U.S., Britain, and France played a role in the 1966 coup that toppled him. Congo was destroyed almost immediately after its independence in June 1960; the Western countries were involved in the coup against him in September, and his brutal assassination in January 1961. The kleptocrat Mobutu was installed in power by the West and sustained until 1997. In Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, another champion of African unity, self-reliance and economic independent was opposed by former colonial power France; he too was murdered in 1987.
On the other hand, African leaders who were subservient to the former colonial powers and functioned as imperialist agents in Africa were supported and rewarded handsomely. They were kept in power by the former colonial masters as long as they were useful. Once they outlived their usefulness, the Western powers permitted their removal from office, by any means necessary.
The African leaders who learned how to be obedient “good boys” of the West are maintained in power. In addition to Mobutu, some African leaders who served as agents of imperialism were: Jean Bedel Bokassa of Central African Republic, who had crowned himself “emperor”; and Omar Bongo of Gabon. Some of the leading agents of Western imperialism in Africa today are: Paul Biya of Cameroon, who has been in power for 39 years; Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, who has been ruling for 42 years; and, Gen. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni Tibahaburwa of Uganda, who seized power 35 years ago.
Gen. Museveni has become the linchpin of Western powers and the point-man responsible for policing the Great Lakes Region, a super-agent of imperialism. Gen. Museveni is handsomely rewarded by the U.S., the United Kingdom, and the European Union. In defense of Western interests, Museveni deployed troops funded by the U.S., EU and UN to Somalia and the Central African Republic. Museveni’s soldiers have also waged wars in Rwanda, Congo, Sudan, and South Sudan. He has been rewarded by Western powers for protection of their economic interests, especially in the Congo.
As Gen. Museveni brutalized Ugandans over decades—currently he’s launched a campaign of abductions, torture, and killings since the rigged Jan. 14 presidential election—the West continued to provide unequivocal support for the dictator. The West will support and finance his regime, allowing him to retain power, so long as he’s not regarded as a dispensable liability.
Other strategies used by the West to control Africa are debt, grants, foreign “aid”, and unproductive military funding and training. The funds provided and the military infrastructures built are used to protect Western interests in contrast to Africa’s long term development (Dambisa Moyo, 2009, Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is another Way for Africa).
The Debt gives the West leverage to instruct African leaders on what they can and cannot do. The power to run the African state shifts from African leaders to the West. They “own” African countries through the accumulated debt obligations. Once locked in the debt trap, African countries are provided with more loans, not to repay the principal but to repay the interest.
These strategies emerged as the most preferred instruments of control of nominally independent African states, especially since the end of the Cold War. African states sink deeper and deeper in debt with nothing beneficial to show for it.
Having become heavily indebted to Western nations and institutions, African states rapidly lost sovereignty. They were no longer able to provide basic necessities for their citizens, or to protect the civilian population during times of peace or war. The former colonial powers have intervened directly or indirectly, through foreign-controlled or funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs). White Evangelical Christians from the United States have hurriedly filled the vacuum created by government failure. They began to perform functions that are normally the preserve of sovereign states. The roles played by foreign NGOs in Africa can never be allowed, under similar circumstances, to operate in Europe or the United States. There are now thousands of NGOs in Africa performing all manners of duties most of which State officials have no clue.
Additionally, foreign ambassadors routinely lecture compliant African leaders who are funded by Western governments. These same African leaders never listen to the local voters, the citizens of the countries they rule. Africa remains a play ground for “white saviors” and all sorts of experiments, whether medical, economic. or social. The NGOs and the religious fundamentalists preach to Africans to be stoic in their poverty and to trust in God and look forward to the after-life.
Colonialism was never a democracy or meant to provide service to the Black indigenous peoples. Instead, colonialism created enabling conditions for predatory capitalism. Whites who controlled Africa accumulated wealth for private enjoyment and for the colonial masters. Predatory capitalism functions best in a dictatorship, especially when former colonial powers conclude lucrative deals with the formerly-colonized people.
Most African leaders are the products of colonial education, practice and norms. Some African leaders accept their inferiority and regularly invite white expatriates, whether from the IMF, World Bank, or private sectors, to “help” them manage the economy and govern the state in the interest of the West. (See Erik S. Reinert, 2007, How Rich Countries Got Rich …and Why Poor Countries Stay Poor; Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine—The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, 2007; and, Catherine Caufield, Masters of Illusion—The World Bank and the Poverty of Nations, 1996).
Most of the post-colonial African leaders could fall in the category of some of the people described in Frantz Fanon’s book Black Skin, White Masks. Having learnt the art and practice of dictatorship from the colonial governors who had functioned as judge, legislator, and chief law enforcement officer, the African dictators preferred to exercise similar powers enjoyed by the former colonial officials. They regard cabinet ministers, parliaments, nationalist, and Pan-Africanists as nuisances. African citizens are irrelevant to most of the rulers. Rather than relying on the citizens as the tax base to fund government, Americans and Europeans provide the funds. In return some of these rulers mortgage their countries to Western interest.
The West prefer dictatorship in Africa because it is good for business and short-term gains with no accountability. Equally beneficial for Western businesses are internal armed conflicts and unending wars. These wars sustain the military industrial complex. Arms-manufacturers and distribution companies in the U.S. and Europe benefit. Victims of blood conflicts are African civilians.
In functional democracies leaders are elected at regular intervals through free and fair elections, and they are held accountable. Yet, in Africa, governments accountable to the citizens are seen by the West as a threat to their interest.
Uganda, a former British colony, is a good case study of how repressive colonial laws, religion, and God were used to continue control of the country even after formal independence. Colonial era laws continue to create challenges. When it gained independence on October 9, 1962, Uganda inherited and adopted the River Nile Treaty of May 9, 1929 between Britain and Egypt. The problems arising from the interpretation of the Treaty and its control of the River Nile remain unresolved, not only for Uganda, but other sovereign states that have interests.
The legacy of white Supremacy, which was used to inferiorize Africans during the colonial era remains today with the cooperation of some African rulers, agents of imperialism. Uganda’s Gen. Museveni has absolved Europeans for the horrors of enslavement of Africans, one of the worst holocausts in history.
In an interview conducted by Bill Berkeley and published in the Atlantic Monthly Magazine in September 1994, Museveni stated: “I have never blamed the Whites for colonizing Africa; I have never blamed those Whites for taking slaves. If you are stupid, you should be taken a slave.” It’s no wonder that Museveni has been supported for the last 35 years.
Museveni supports the claims by the colonizers that they were on a “civilizing” mission in Africa. In The Africa That Never Was, Dorothy Hammond and Alter Jablow (1992), reviewed the literature that once defended enslavement of Africans. Characterizing those writings, the authors explained, “The character of Africans could change only for the better through contact with their European masters. Slavery, in effect, became the means of the Africans’ salvation, for it introduced them to Christianity and civilization…”
Christianity was conflated with civilization even though there was nothing civil by the genocidal European campaigns to colonize Africa. In General Museveni, the imperialists have found a praise-singer to racism and enslavement.
Africa is not a poor continent. The West underdeveloped the continent, continues to exploit its resources, and has affixed the “poverty” label on Africa. (See Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, 1972). The resources that enrich the U.S. and Europe come from Africa. Many people are unaware that the uranium used to build the bombs that the U.S. dropped on Japan during WWII was plundered from the Congo.
The cost of Western support for Africa’s dictators cannot be measured in terms of U.S. dollars or Euros. The cost includes: loss of African states’ sovereignty, independence, dignity, self-respect, and autonomous organic economic development.
Western support of Africa’s dictators translate in loss of economic, military, and political independence. Africa shall continue to exist in a state of perpetual dependency and rely on the malevolent “good will” of Western politicians until African people revolt against corrupt leaders and Western backers. Africans’ only path to salvation is to remove dictators, change course and de-link from policies grounded on the colonial models.
Dr. Obote Odora is consultant.
Editor’s Note: See Petition calling for Western ban on arms to Gen. Museveni