My apologies if you were offended by the term “descendants of slaves.”
It was unintentional. I got into trouble when I first used the term
black Americans. There are Caribbean immigrants who call themselves
black Americans. I didn’t want to use the term African Americans because
there are some continental African immigrants who call themselves such.
Hence, Negro Americans or “descendants . . .”
Again my apologies.
George B.N. Ayittey,
i am a Black American or African American.
my ancestors were kidnapped and transplanted to this hemisphere.
it is dehumanizing to say that i or any other Black American are
descendants of slaves. we are descendants of Africans.
— In Africa-Politics@yahoogroups.com, “George B.N. Ayittey”
BLACK AMERICA AND BLACK AFRICA
My earlier posting claiming black Americans constitute a formidable
obstacle to our progress in Africa needs clarification.
1. By “black Americans,” I mean African Americans or Negro
the descendants of slaves born here in the U.S. This does not
black from other countries who have settled in the U.S. and have
2. I was not looking at the whole gamut of relationships
Americans and black Africans. Only that which relates to POLITICAL
CHANGE, not cultural.
3. By “progress” I mean the progress in our struggle for
I apologize to anyone who may have been offended by my earlier
because I was not clear enough. These are the FACTS however:
1. Black American leaders have coddled and consorted with black
leaders to the detriment of their black people in Africa.
2. Black Americans have defended and lobbyied for black African
3. Black American schools have showered by African despot with
In North America, black Americans constitute the only group of
diaspora with sufficient clout, credibility and experience to help
black brothers and sisters in Africa in their struggle for
experience gained in the civil rights struggle in the 1960s could
been helpful to black Africans but, in practice, turned out to be
of a hindrance.
Black Americans HELPED with the struggle against apartheid in South
Africa. They tended to see the campaign against apartheid as an
extension of their own civil rights struggle. This was
since the oppressors and exploiters in both cases were white, the
oppressed and exploited, black. But many Africans saw apartheid as
merely a special case of the oppression that was rampant across the
continent. Further, the analysis of African problems in a
rights” or black-white paradigm was not appropriate. In black
color was not the issue. Blacks ruled themselves. Although in the
their oppressors and exploiters were white colonialists, today
black. Perhaps, the innocent oversight of this fundamental
rendered many black Americans extremely hostile to the notion that
black African leaders head more ruthlessly oppressive regimes than
apartheid system in South Africa, notwithstanding the fact that
apartheid is institutionalized.
It is also true that in the 1950s black Americans provided vital
to Africans in the liberation struggle against colonialism. In
times, black Americans have been indefatigable in the campaign for
one-man, one-vote for blacks in South Africa. But to the blacks in
independent Africa fighting for the same political rights, black
Americans have offered little or no support. Unbelievably, black
Americans rather helped black dictators to oppress black people in
Africa. Said Keith Richburg, the Nairobi Bureau chief for The
Post (May 30, 1993):
African-American leaders often seem to go through a strange
metamorphosis when they come to their ancestral homeland.
hailed as statesmen and given the benefit of the doubt. Repressive
regimes are praised for having fought off the colonialists and
their countries on the path of development. While black American
were at the forefront of calls for immediate democratic reform in
Africa, when it comes to black Africa those same black Americans
is not America’s business to interfere — even when the victims are
Africa’s black masses (p.C2).
This was eloquently demonstrated at an African/African-American
Conference in Yamassoukrou (in the Ivory Coast) in April 1991. The
delegates were effusive in expressions of solidarity to combat the
rising tide of racism in America. “We are a community of resistance
united in a fight against racism, apartheid and forced
intoned Capt. Blaise Compaore, the military despot from Burkina
But no one in that congregation of civil rights leaders, which
Coretta Scott King and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, talked about the
slaughter of blacks in West Africa and the senseless civil wars
had produced mounting refugees and grisly spectacles of emaciated
of famine victims. Not one single black American civil rights
condemned Arab apartheid in Mauritania and Sudan and the present-
enslavement of blacks by Arab masters. Only two, Rep. William H.
III (D-Pa) and Vivien Lowery Derryck, president of the African-
Institute, distinguished themselves with muted references to civil
rights. Said Gray: “We keenly are interested in human rights and
democratic institutions. Human rights must be in the forefront of
relationship, and this principle must apply to all of Africa”
(Washington Post, April 20, 1991; p. A18).
Unfortunately, black Americans are not well informed about events
Africa and myths and misconceptions about the continent still
the black, as well as the white, American community. Says E.R.
“Most black Americans have no firsthand knowledge of the going-ons
Africa, nor do they necessarily trust what limited news they may
from the media. Often they rely on public figures like Rev. Jesse
Jackson and Randall Robinson of TransAfrica or on black-owned
such as the 200 or so that constitute the National Newspapers
Association (NNPA). Unfortunately, those who help shape those
often weasel out of exerting moral authority by saying it’s a
thing and we cannot possibly understand. Or they compromise their
authority by questionable financial dealings with those whose
they advance . . . Many NNPA members have been bought off: Last
Nigeria paid for a 19-member delegation to visit for a `fact-
tour. When she returned, NNPA President Dorothy Leavell said: `We
traveled throughout the country, but we found no evidence of a
dictatorship or a so-called thug-ocracy that others who’ve never
there have charged” (The Houston Chronicle, May 17, 1996). Kakuna
Kerina, program coordinator for Africa at the Committee to Protect
Journalists in New York, terms it “a pathetic example of how
be co-opted or bought off” (The Nation, May 20, 1996; p.19). “All
has done is to further undermine the credibility of the black
offered Randall Echols, acting in Washington as executive
U.S. affairs for Abiola. According to Echols, the military regime
Gen. Sani Abacha of Nigeria showered nearly $5 million in 1995 on
various groups, lobbyists and organizations to shore up its
image in the U.S.
Another such group is CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, whose
chairman, Roy Innis, defended Nigeria against its critics,
are doing a disservice to an important African nation that is
deliberately from military to civilian rule. We talked to people
parts of the country (Nigeria, after a visit) and received a
favorable response to the process that was under way” (The
Times, May 15, 1996; p.A13).
In 1991, the late Leon Sullivan, organized the first African
American Summit in Ivory Coast.
While black Americans were being wined, dined and suckered in the
Coast, black Africans were being butchered in Cameroon, Congo,
Togoland, and other countries. In particular, at about the same
that black Americans were feasting on imported French delicacies
expensive wines, 26 bodies of pro-democracy demonstrators were
dredged from the Lome Lagoon (Togoland). One of the corpses was
a woman with a baby strapped to her back.
Asked about political turmoil and carnage in these black African
countries, Benjamin Hooks, director of the NAACP–the world’s
civil rights organization, replied that “there is little black
could or should do directly to help foster or affect political
Sub-Saharan Africa . . . I don’t think it is our business to
their affairs.” Said one incredulous Ivorian student: “I wish some
these (black) Americans would take to the streets with us instead
supporting the old order” (Washington Post, April 18, 1991; p.
more searing query came from a Liberian exile in the Ivory
have you black Americans let us down?” (Washington Post, April 20,
Life has been tough for Ivorians. President Houphouet-Boigny blamed
their hardships on “Western commodity speculators.” But Ivorians
to the rampant corruption ($456 million is illegally removed from
country every year) and the basilica at Yamassoukrou–a magnificent
“black elephant.” The Rev. Leon H. Sullivan, the black American
rights leader known for his “Sullivan Principles” for South Africa,
hailed the basilica as the “world’s greatest expression of
faith and praised Houphouet-Boigny for his 30 years of impeccable
leadership” (Washington Post, April 18, 1991; p. A41). To
critic Professor Laurent Gbagbo, Houphouet-Boigny is “a reckless
criminal and a big thief.” Funding for that useless monument to
(cost $360 million) came from his own pocket, according to
Houphouet-Boigny. Some pocket.
Two years later, the theatrics, duplicity and fraud moved to Gabon,
where President Omar Bongo staged the Second African-African
Summit to garner the international goodwill and recognition he
desperately needed to shore up his flailing 26-year presidency. An
oil-rich country the size of Connecticut, Gabon has seen its
potential steadily squandered by mismanagement and naked
country is essentially bankrupt and has defaulted on its $500
The oil boom of the 1970s fuelled a profligate spending spree that
culminated in an extravagant OAU Summit in 1977. Among the wasteful
projects acquired were a colossal $139 million Presidential
Gabon and Trans-Gabon Highway. The highway, in particular,
such huge cost overruns that only 535 km of the planned had been
completed after 12 years that the remaining section was shelved
indefinitely in 1986.
After assuming power in Nov 1967, President Bongo ran the country
own personal fiefdom. Opposition parties were banned in 1970 and
country declared a “one-party state.” Bongo won successive 7-year
president terms in 1973, 1979 and 1986 in elections — each with
percent of the vote. His personal fortune, estimated in the
include real estate and bank accounts in France, Switzerland and
U.S. as well as a multitude of companies and hotels in Gabon.
Living standards in Gabon have deteriorated absymally under Bongo.
number of women living below the poverty line in rural Gabon has
increased by over 250 percent in the past 20 years, according to a
recently published by the International Fund for Agricultural
Development, a UN agency. Roads are scoured by gaping potholes for
of repairs. So severe has been the economic deterioration that
provision of basic public services has fallen into neglect. Dead
were left in city streets. On April 15, fed up and angry, Gabonese
erected roadblocks to denounce the lack of water and electricity.
Gabon’s human rights record and political freedom has been
According to State’s 1993 Human Rights Report, “Gabonese law and
security enforcement officials use beatings as part of the
process of detainees to obtain confessions. Prisoners are
forced to march on their knees over stones. Opposition leaders are
routinely harassed. The leader of the Gabonese Progress Party,
Rendjambe, was found dead in a Bongo-owned Hotel Doweon the
Libreville on May 23, 1990. His corpse bore the marks of hypodermic
needle wounds which caused his family to suspect poisoning. Within
of the news of his death, demonstrators packed the streets of the
capital and Gentil, denouncing President Bongo as the murderer and
demanding his overthrow. During the siege of Gentil, angry
a French consul and 10 expatriates hostage, demanding that France
withdraw its support for Bongo. The Bongo government responded
ferocity that its patron, France, was even embarassed. Deploying
armored cars, multiple grenades launchers and automatic weapons,
government gained control of Gentil and Libreville but with at
civilians dead. In June 1990, Auguste Ambourouet and Guy Nang
both members of the opposition Gabonese Progress Party were
without charge. During a peaceful demonstration by opposition
March 1992, police opened fire with rubber bullets, killing a
named Martine Oulagou Mbadinga.
To burnish his image abroad and seek a fifth 7-year term in presidential elections slated for December 1993, Bongo held the Second African African American Summit (May 24-29, 1993). The African American delegation included Virginia’s Governor Doug Wilder, Hon. William Gray
III, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Mrs. Coretta Scott-King, Joseph Lowery, Lou Farrakhan, and many others. How on earth could black American leaders, who waged a historic struggle for civil/human rights and vigorously campaigned for disinvestment and sanctions against South Africa’s
abominable system of apartheid, allow themselves to be used by black African despots with palpable contempt for human rights and democracy?
At that Summit,
None of the Americans ever mentioned — or even bothered to go meet — opposition leaders like Jules-Aristide Bourdes-Oguiliguende. And none of the black Americans, in their speeches ever mentioned the plight of
Gabon’s only private radio station, which was being blocked from transmitting, or the peasants in the countryside who had thrown up barricades and staged protests against the unequal distribution of wealth (The Washington Post, May 30, 1993; p.C2).
But when Sierra Leone’s boyish president, Capt. Valentine
entered the meeting hall sporting his usual camouflage battle
and Rayban sunglasses, “many of the black Americans went wild with
applause, as if Strasser were a celebrity rap star. No one
mention that Strasser seized power in a military coup in 1992,
had yet to make good on his promise to return Sierra Leone to
government and free elections, and that in the last year of his
this boyish-looking autocrat had presided over a violent purge of
dissidents and ex-regime officials in his own country” (The
Post, May 30, 1993).
Even more nauseating was the announcement at the summit by
Ambassador to the U.S., Mohammed Fall Ainina, of the acceptance of
fishing contract by a group of black Americans headed by Mervyn M.
Dymally, a former Democratic Congressman from California (The New
Times, May 27, 1993; p.A10). As we saw in Chapter 6, Mauritania and
Sudan do not only practice Arab apartheid but also enslave blacks
this day and age.
When asked about African democracy movement in interviews,
Doug Wilder said, “We cannot and should not force them to undergo a
metamorphosis in seconds. If they are on track and on the path and
giving evidence of trying to adjust, then our job is not to
and to understand that there is a difference from what they are
accustomed to.” Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., the new executive
the NAACP, observed: “The African-American community would like to
the process of democratization continue in Africa, but not try to
dictate the character or pace of that democratization. It is for
people of Gabon to determine their destiny. It is not for
get involved in the internal political struggles of Gabon” (The
Washington Post, May 30, 1993; p.C2). Unbelievable.
While Africans were struggling to rid themselves of hideous
black American institutions were showering the dictators with
degrees. The Central State University of Ohio awarded Flight Lt.
Rawlings an honorary doctorate in law. “It also made him the
chairman of the World African Chamber of Commerce” (West Africa,
21-27, 1990; p. 864).
Another honorary doctorate in law was awarded by the University of
Maryland (Eastern Shore) to President Paul Biya of Cameroon in
1991. The timing could not have been more callous. The University
Yaounde in Biya’s own country had been in a virtual state of siege
that very month, with clashes between pro-democracy students and
security forces. “According to the National Coalition of Cameroon
Students, 58 students were killed and over 200 arrests made, a
backed by the Cameroon Human Rights Organization, which produced a
of students missing and presumed dead” (West Africa, May 20-26,
Cameroonian students in the U.S. were irate: “`We will picket at
commencement . . . because of the corruption, the
embezzlement . . . the
jailing of people without reason,’ said Ernest Ehabe, an organizer
the students . . . A high-ranking State Department official, who
not to be identified, said the Biya government imposed harsh
Cameroon after the (1984) coup attempt, suspending most political
parties and torturing and killing some political prisoners”
Post, May 3, 1991; p. A10). Nevertheless, “university authorities
rejected the students’ appeal on the grounds that the award
already scheduled” (West Africa, May 20-26, 1991; p. 799).
Even more outrageous were plans by Coppin State College in
present a degree to Maj. Gen. Justin Lekhanya of Lesotho. College
authorities were thoroughly embarrassed when Lekhanya was deposed
Says Boakye K. Agyarko in New Jersey:
These same African Americans who applaud the dictators of
themselves veterans of the civil rights battles. They faced
and fire hoses to challenge a system they deemed unequal and
would have thought then that they would be on the side of Africa’s
masses struggling for human rights, democracy, freedom and liberty.
Instead they have firmly stood on the side of every single
dictator, and hailed them as statesmen. They have cheered when we,
flies to wanton boys, are killed for sport by these
dictators . . . They
have cheered on African dictators, whose agents have stripped our
totally naked in public, brutally beaten them and some instances
violated them sexually. Yet, the African American leadership have
rallies, public protests and charged police brutalities and sexual
harassment when white police officers stop black motorists, or when
improper language has been un the presence of women, a la Anita
They have counternanced the murder of our judges. They have
standing ovations to autocrats who refuse to account for thousands
their citizens missing in peace time . . .
We as Africans need to take a hard look at our
relationships with the
leadership of the African Americans . . . The African must
become his own advocate. To date, the advocacy of issues relating
Africa has been carried out by groups of African Americans who
understand the issues, or present them from a historical
only as it relates to the issues of racism in America, or from
narrow business interests. The pertinent issues on Africa are only
with tangentially as a backdrop to racism in America. It is sad as
instructive to note that, with Africa’s current uphill struggle for
liberty, practically all African Americans with transnational
pleaded the cases of African dictators. Not one has openly been
the side of the many democracy activists (The Statesman, Nov 28,
Vile opportunism only partly explains the strained relationship
black American leaders and African freedom fighters. Fundamental
differences in attitudinal make-up explain a large part of it.
four psychological differences between black Americans and black
Africans. The first pertains to the nature of the “enemy.”
their historical experience, black Americans have only seen white
oppressors and exploiters, whereas black Africans have seen both
and black oppressors and exploiters. Therefore, black Africans
difficulty condemning the white racists of South Africa as
the black tyrants of independent Africa. Black tyranny is something
black Americans have never experienced and therefore cannot relate
Second, most black Americans tend to see racism as their primary
obstacle against advancement. This is not the case in black Africa
blacks rule blacks and there are few whites. Tribalism is the
black Africa — a scourge which black Americans do not understand.
Third, having been shut out of the white government in American for
centuries because of alleged racial inferiority, black Americans
the vicarious gratification of seeing a black president ruling a
African nation. This explains the tendency of some black Americans
embrace black African despots — even Idi Amin — regardless of
Fourth, in their civil rights struggle in the 1960s, black
looked up to the government (or Congress) for political
Congress passed the civil rights act and enacted various
measures (affirmative action, welfare, desegration laws, etc.).
while most black Americans tend to see the government as the
most black Africans tend to see their corrupt, brutal and
governments as the problem.
The attitudes and perspectives of black Americans are
well as their emotional need to re-connect with their ancestral
Motherland. But their monopolization or appropriation of the
agenda creates enormous difficulties for those black Africans
against tyranny. Perhaps a solution to this problem is to let black
Africans speak for themselves and for black Americans to do the
listening. If black Americans wish to help Africa today, they
side or work with the African PEOPLE, not the corrupt and
leaders. This is where the distinction between leaders and the