Africans and the White House: Friends, Partners or Fools

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

The Palestinian Authority President, Abu Abbas was recently at the White House. It was his second visit of the year. Ariel Sharon must have visited the White House at least a dozen times since he became the Prime Minister of Israel, in 2001. Generally, presidents and prime ministers and people whom the American government considers friendly and important and of substance gets to meet with the U.S President in the Oval Office, Camp David or have press conferences at the Rose Garden. Photo-op with the president of the United States is highly prized and is therefore considered a “symbol of power” by many.

Most of these political juggernauts or economic heavyweights also get to visit with the Secretary of State, and with influential members of the U.S Congress and other decision-makers. Some of these men and women would also gets to address the elite media, visit and or give speeches at elite institutions like Harvard, Berkeley, Princeton, American University, Yale and others. They may visit the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institution, the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute and others. They are courted by opinion-makers like Charlie Rose, Larry King, Mike Wallace and Ted Koppel for their opinions on various intermestic issues.

These juggernauts and heavyweights would also make it a point of duty to visit their constituencies in New York, Washington DC, Chicago, Los Angeles and other places. They would visit Churches and Mosques and Temples and Synagogues. Those from South America would never fail to visit Miami, Texas, and California.

The Israelis are masters of the game. For instance, the Prime Minster of Israel and his entourage would never fail to make the media round. For two or three days, they would take over CNN, PBS, ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX and other news outlets trying to sway US public opinion on a wide array of domestic and foreign policy matters. Mr. Daniel Ayalon, the current Israeli ambassador, much like his predecessors, would be found partying and parlaying with the Secretary of State and others — pushing Israeli agenda.

Ambassadors Moshe Arad, Zalman Shoval, Eliahu Ben-Elissar, Itamar Rabinovich, Zalman Shoval, and David Ivry — like all other Israeli ambassadors around the world do the same thing: selflessly and vigorously championing their country’s interests before the two publics: domestic and foreign. The Israeli’s are good. They have lobbying groups in all the economic and political capitals of the world. Not even Hollywood is overlooked. Their Prime Minister have unrestrained access to the White House, and to Downing Street, and to other power centers they deem strategic. Israel is not a nation that fools around. This is not a nation that wastes her resources. This is a nation that values the role and place of history, diplomacy, public relations, power, and national security.

Africans on the other hand seem clueless. Totally clueless! When a typical African Head of State or Head of Government come to the US, a low-level officer from the State Department — not even an Under Secretary of State — receives him or her. I am not even sure if Dr. Condoleezza Rice or her predecessors, say within the last 10 years, have ever directly welcomed an African president to the US. Mr. Nelson Mandela may have been the only exception. The White House doesn’t even consider African countries partners. We do not fall within America’s strategic interest.

To London, Paris, Berlin, and especially to Washington DC, Africans are just some bloody fools — to be used and abused and whose resources they need for the advancement of their own country. And when they seem to be running out of cheap labor, they allow us in on green card lottery schemes.

The sad part of this unequal relationship is this: if an American mayor, a CEO of a small company, a member of the US Congress or even a middle-level officer of the US State Department were to visit Nigeria or any other African country, he or she would be heartily welcome to the presidential palace. And even the Indians, the Pakistanis, the Chinese, Japanese and others understand the game. Day after day and week after weeks, the Nigerian newspapers publishes pictures of president Obasanjo with the chairman of this or that company, with the financial officer of this or that company, with the Chinese representative of this or that organization or with the ambassador of this or that country.

How these people are able to gain access to the president beats me. That any Ying and Yang and Singh and Chung and Jimmydick can stroll into Aso Rock amazes me; that any of these low-level business and political errand boys can meet with President Obasanjo shocks me. My goodness, how cheap is the Nigerian presidency?

Very few people have direct access to members of the US Congress; very few people have access to State Governors; and even in some cities, access to Mayors are restricted. And fewer still have access to the White House; but not so in Nigeria or any African country. While the natives barely see their presidents and elected officials, foreigners have easy access to our presidents and prime ministers and other high-up public officials. Is this a case of inferiority complex?

Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Thabo Mbeki, Mwai Kibaki and John Kufor must have visited the United States a combined two-dozen or so times. Now, how many times have they met with President Bush? How many times have they been invited to address the US Congress? How many times have they met with the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Defense? How many times have they been invited to give commencement speeches at any of the elite institutions? How many times have they appeared before the elite media?

For the most part, when African presidents come to the US, they hang out with their cron

ies and hangeron, and with low-level public and private officials. Some come for medical treatments, to finalize illegal money transfers, to attend the graduation or marriage ceremony of their children, visit with their mistresses or engage in such misadventures. Rare is the African president or State Governor who can comfortably address the US media or go before any of the elite think tanks to make his or her case. For the most part, they have nothing significant to say, no original idea or philosophy to propagate. They are just Ajalas.

The ambassadors are not any better. What exactly are their functions anyway? What is it they do in Washington and in New York? I have never heard of or seen the Nigerian ambassador to the US on American television or newspaper or magazine defending, stating or championing Nigeria’s national security interest. He probably comes out of his mansion when the president, the vice-president or a high-up military officer or their wives are visiting. It is a waste of our resources when you have ambassadors who have no great roles to play other than to just sleep, eat, attend weekend social functions and host visiting dignitaries.

Yet, they have untold staff manning the embassy. This is the same embassy where people just sit around attending to their personal chores, chew gums, gossip over this and that issue and in the process waste the nation’s resources. Even African countries that shouldn’t have been nation-states in the first place have embassies or some form of diplomatic representation in the US. Why?

Some of these countries live off of donor money; yet they find it elegant to send representatives to the US, London, Paris and elsewhere. They all should just pack their bags and go back home. And in their place, the African Union should send a staff of twenty-four to represent the entire continent in the US. And an equal number to Europe, Asia and the Pacific Rim countries; and may be five staff members to South America — instead of what we currently have.

Most of these so-called ambassadors are party apparatchiks, or the president’s cronies. For the most part, these are people who see ambassadorship as a way to move their wives and children and family members out of the country. Ambassadorship has become a way to better one’s personal life, not an opportunity to serve one’s country. It has become a legal way to illegally siphon and waste the country’s resources — not an avenue to help make the case for one’s country.

With the possible exception of a few African ambassadors and a few head of states, most have no idea of how the world works. They have no business running a state. They have no business lording over their countrymen. Their behavior and pronouncements give the world reasons to laugh at us. Any wonder then that the vast majority of the world sees Africans as a bunch of people who can’t shoot straight and as a people can’t put their houses in order. The world, I am sure, have no respect for the African.

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Anonymous November 13, 2005 - 2:05 pm

thank u so much 4 this article. is good u could write what is happening.keep it up is a good one.God bless u.

Anonymous November 1, 2005 - 9:51 pm

The writer simply made thought provoking point.

Anonymous November 1, 2005 - 1:53 pm

very thought provoking! I appreciate the honesty to tell the truth… no matter how bitter it may be…

Anonymous October 31, 2005 - 8:29 pm

sabella has being a kin observer! more he's trully an african nationalist he takes pride courage to write what others cannot.

Anonymous October 31, 2005 - 7:42 pm

comparing nigeria with some of the countries you mentioned like isreal is really not a fair comparison you have to remember the jews run the media and so are very influential in this country.on another note african nations can not expect the same treatment given to other nations till the get the house in order….

Anonymous October 31, 2005 - 7:30 pm

you know ahwt riles me mostwhen i see 3 afrrican heads of state holding a joint press conference with the US president.So 1 man in america 3 africa menthats the way of the world…On the other hand I heard that there used to be disdain on the part of our foreign ministry(Nigeria) when an african american was sent to be ambassador to usthe thinking being that we deserved an "original"america(is that not inferiority complex we will get there one day!

Anonymous October 31, 2005 - 1:30 pm

may be we need to start respecting ourselves first and then the world will respect us..

Anonymous October 31, 2005 - 1:26 pm

I agree with your comments as it realtes to most African countries but it beats my imagination that you didnt draw the exceptions to the rule…true South africa Egypt and To a lesser extent Nigeria don't belong to this storied group. Nigeria's President particularly is well respected in the media he has met with Bush several times appeared on Wolf Blitzer countless times been to Council on Foreign Relations (may be u should stay up in the morning to watch C-SPAN to catch him) and is a regular visitor to the powerful James Baker Institute Houston and the Carter Center in Atlanta. But the Nigerian representation in US is very abysmal..OBJ is his own foreign minsitry and I fear for the content of our policy when he departs what we run presently is a one man diplomatic machine centered around the President. And talking about the pai pai business men that access Aso im fault! when no one wants to invest I guess he got to be happy with whatever he gets the least we get out of those trip are some tourism money and may be Nigerian is creating a new niche in tourism that we can call Presidential Business thinks the openess of OBJ is welcomed but if Aso Rock is made more opened to ordinary Nigerians it will be even more welcome..Aso Rock like White house is the house of every Nigerian and there is no reason our schools kids can take a 30 mins open house tour where they can get a chance to meet the President or his staff..what a great day will it be when our Presidents wil stop being barricaded in by those dogidos calling themselves security men..even security men could not save the ex-dictator from death!

Reply October 31, 2005 - 1:19 pm

Oga Sabeyou speak my mind here.Honestl;y how do you expect a Mr Bush or a Mr Downing Street to treat a Mr Obasanjo or Mr Maputo when what we are good at is stealing money from here and hiding it in Mr IMF banksWe wait day in day out for western countiries to propound an economy theories for importation to Africa.We wait at the table of western and American creations for solutions to our everyday problems.Common problems like determining the cause of a plane crash or the replacement of an askew machinery must wait for an Oyinbo technician called experts.I tell my students that Africa will wakle up one day and discover that Europe and America have relocated to Mars!

Anonymous October 31, 2005 - 11:51 am

Most American and European diplo-circles view African nations as beggar-debtor states irregardless of their endless mineral wealth: "He with his hand out-strectched gets no respect".

However African diplomats overlook a certain Washington caucus that could lobby their concerns but they by-pass them with a contempt similar to what they receive from the Amer/Euro dipolmats.

Anonymous October 31, 2005 - 11:26 am

We are not that bad Sabella and the situation aint as grim you are partially off-target on this one. Africans must earn others respect but your 24 reps./plenipotentiary suggestion for Africa cant be unless there is first a US of Africa. Dont hold your breath waiting… Tim


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