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 OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT BUSH
 Helen Wangusa , Patrick Craven, Muthoni Wanyeki, Oduor Ong'wen, and Ezra Mbogori
 July 10, 2003
 

Dear President Bush,

As your plane touches down in Dakar, Senegal, we welcome the opportunity of your visit to examine the US Africa relationship and to establish ties that are based on honesty, respect and a clear commitment to removing the structural obstacles that impede Africa's development. We would like to raise the following issues for your consideration. They are not new ones, but there is an opportunity, with your visit, to act decisively and change the image and relationship of your Administration with Africa.

The proposed visit to five African countries has been scheduled to clash with the Second Heads of Summit meeting in Maputo, Mozambique. It is unclear how the Administration could be so out of step with African continental institutions by not seeking to attend this important meeting. As arranged, the trip will rather serve as a distraction to the African Union meeting.

We notice that your planning team has omitted those countries like Tanzania and Kenya that have directly suffered from terrorist attacks against US interests and citizens. This is odd given the tremendous cost that these countries have borne and continue to bear as a result of their relationship with the US. Furthermore, the highly selective programme excludes civil society and the business communities who could have offered constructive and prepositional conversation around US foreign policy, aid and trade. As constructed, the agenda appears to offer little else than a series of photo opportunities starting with Goree Island and ending in a Ugandan AIDS clinic with shots of our Presidents in between.

This trip may boost the Republican campaign image among the African-American community before elections. However, it does very little to boost confidence on the continent that this is a working visit that will afford time and space for Africans to share their aspirations and engage the Administration on the need for the US to change its policies and practices toward Africa. There is still time though should you choose to act on the substantive issues we raise below.

Delivery not spin on HIV/AIDS is needed:

Two thirds of the 25 million people who have died are Africans. In Zimbabwe alone, more than 3000 people are dying each week from the disease. There is no doubt this is one of the gravest issues confronting the continent, yet the Global Health Fund is short on resources. While welcoming the public pledge of US$15 billion to a unilateral US Global AIDS programmes, we note your Administration's request for 2004 is a miserly $450 million. Mr. Bush, where is the $15 Billion that you have promised to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean? Show us the money!

The quality of US health programmes have suffered from the reliance on patented drugs and the restriction of health programmes that promote abstinence from sex rather than safe sex. We call on you to heed the demand of African leaders and women's organisations for a change in these policies and those promoting health cut backs. The demand for the right to import and manufacture generic drugs is a moral imperative. This trip would be an opportunity to express your support for Africans to access cheap generic drugs and to promote women's rights to control their own fertility.

Decrease uni-lateral militarisation, facilitate regional peace-keeping:

Several African conflicts are leading to the deaths, displacement and impoverishment of millions of African women, men and children. African leaders have tried individually and collectively to respond to these conflicts despite the debilitating effects of structural adjustment policies (which the US supports) and debt servicing.

The US needs to provide adequate logistical and financial support for peacekeeping, peacemaking and peace-building in Sudan, Liberia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Burundi. It can do this through cooperation and collaboration with existing efforts such as the ECOWAS-sponsored peace conference in Liberia, the South African-led peace efforts in Burundi and the United Nations and French-led operations in the DRC.

At the same time, civil society organizations in Africa would like to register their unequivocal opposition to the further militarisation of the continent by the proposed setting up of new military bases in Africa as well as the expansion of others, i.e. Djibouti. We are not unmindful of the past US military role in Africa. In fact a number of Africa's civil wars are products of US military support, including Liberia, the DRC, and the recently ended Angolan war. The move to militarize the continent cannot be justified by US economic interests in our oil or in protecting Africa from terrorism.

We call on the US to roll back the current plans to create "forward operating bases" on African soil and desist from promoting bi-lateral agreements that exempt both US and African citizens from prosecution under the International Criminal Court. With great power comes responsibility for one's actions. This should also apply to the US.

Why is Iraq's debt different from Africa's?:

It has long been established that Africa's debt burden is a major obstacle to Africa's development objectives. The servicing of Africa's debt has made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the continent to invest in the productive sector, health and education.

Mr. Bush, will you announce US support for the unconditional cancellation of Africa's debt while in Africa? If Iraqi's debt can be cancelled, then surely there is nothing to stop you from doing the same for Africa.

Dumping is not Fair Trade:

In your pre-visit media briefings, you made reference to free trade and AGOA as a panacea for Africa's economic woes, yet your Administration practices protectionist policies, offers tremendous subsidies and is aggressively promoting patents on all living and non-living resources. Agriculture is Africa's competitive advantage and the only form of livelihood for 70% of its population. Africa's poverty is the direct consequence of the inability to export agricultural commodities at fair prices and to access US technologies.

We call on you to announce a moratorium on subsidies to US farmers, desist from championing risky GM products and to take measures that will enhance market access for Africa's agricultural products.

Democracy is a principle, not a matter of expediency:

African people across the continent are establishing and holding accountable democratic governments. In these cases, US support like elsewhere in the world is welcome. The practice of externally induced "regime change" as we have seen in the recent past is not welcome. Africans reserve the right to elect and/or recall their leaders through democratic processes. We view with deep concern, the pressure that is placed on African Governments to adopt laws that contravene national constitutions and to act in a manner that strips their citizens or residents of their fundamental freedoms and access to the rule of law such as the recent case of four Moslems in Malawi suspected of being linked to Al Qaeda. This divides Africa along racial and religious lines.

We would have liked an opportunity to express these thoughts more directly and hear your responses. However we note with concern that the space for civil society in the US to comment on and/or critique your administration policies has shrunk considerably. We are not surprised that civil society in Africa as well did not feature in your itinerary.

We deeply share the pain and suffering of Americans resulting from September 11 events and the sense of urgency to bring this insecurity to an end. However, we think that US-Africa relations cannot not be driven by the US War Against Terrorism or US interests in Africa as an emerging market or as supplier of 15% of US oil. We make these appeals because we believe there are obligations that come with being the world's only super power.

Furthermore, the people of the US and Africa have a history that is intertwined. Crimes against African humanity were conducted during slavery and during the cold war. In that sense the US has an ethical burden to act in ways that exude justice, human rights and a genuine respect for democracy. We ask not for charity, we seek justice. We look to your trip to to act decisively and change the image and relationship of your Administration with Africa.

Yours truly:

Helen Wangusa Coordinator, African Women Empowerment Network (AWEPON), Uganda
Patrick Craven, Congress of South African Trade Unions, South Africa
Muthoni Wanyeki, Executive Director African Women Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), Kenya
Oduor Ong'wen, Director, Econews Africa, Kenya
Ezra Mbogori, Executive Director, Mwelekeo wa NGO (MWENGO), Zimbabwe

c.c.Hon. Colin Powell, Secretary of State, Hon. Andrew Natsios, Administrator,USAID.

Endorsed by:
Emira Woods, Co-Director, Foreign Policy in Focus/Institute for Policy Studies, US
Salih Booker, Executive Director, AfricaAction, US
Bill Fletcher, President, Transafrica, US
Leon Spencer, Executive Director, Washington Office on Africa, US
Njoki Njoroge Njehu, Director, 50 Years Is Enough: U.S. Network for Global Economic Justice, US
Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General, CIVICUS Citizens World Alliance, South Africa

From Pambazuka News: A Weekly Electronic Newsletter For Social Justice In Africa, issue 118, July 10, 2003.