COLIN GOES TO AFRICA

(04/10/2003)

By William Reichenbach

Well, not exactly, but the Secretary of State was assigned to call on the United Nations Ambassador from the Republic of Guinea. News of his mission evaporated instantly and it’s doubtful the meeting lasted much longer, the principles having nothing in common and the simplest of agendas: yes or no; good or evil; collaborate or go to hell.

Of course it was a drama. Nobody could miss the asymmetry of such a confrontation, with the United States pretending to honor the archetype IMF “basket case”. And our cynical but automatic reaction to the unseen ceremony tells truths about the world and raises some issues about our consciousness and our readiness to analyze the bigger confrontations. Why, after all, should the uninvited not enjoy the lessons buried in the non-event?

After the posing and the protocol, any appearance of dynamics lay dead on the floor. The Republic of Guinea found herself in the surprising and impotent position of being able to withhold from the great power the support already declared unnecessary. Here we have the courtesy call as direct insult.

Let us imagine the dialogue that did not take place. An exchange of viewpoints on West African history and the imperative to finish with colonialism? Not likely. How about a review of America’s short, bloody history or her ghastly weapons? Doubt it. Any discussion of Iraqi sovereignty or, for that matter, Guinean? No chance. Maybe a credible justification for the presence of U.S. military bases in every corner of the earth and the sky? Forget about it. In Guinea they have a proverb: “He who has done evil, expects evil”. Wasn’t this entire charade just a blood money transaction, with a dapper ex-general in the role of statesman, shopping for some inexpensive public relations?

As for the probable topics: they were few, and added up to one. “Poison gas, freedom, torture, democracy!” It all goes in the same pot and boils down to Saddam. That is the perverse beauty of these performances; the making of simple things out of difficult ones. Analysis, of course, is about making distinctions, not avoiding them. Power claims the pretty words and assigns the dirty ones. Every day, throughout the day: “liberation, terrorism, charity, murder!” Each word is stripped of meaning and put in the service of power, as though little people in little countries don’t know who created Saddam Hussein from a grain of sand.

The Republic of Guinea is a predominantly Muslim African country founded on the principle of non-aligned socialist self-reliance. In other words, somewhere between bad and evil. Could Powell’s employers find a more despised object for their attempted bribery? Imagine the irritation on the part of the Secretary at having to call on such a wretched party just because they’ve been let into the Security Council temporarily.

Democracy is a major nuisance for the Bush team. Have we forgotten how these people arrived to disgrace the highest positions in our government? In the General Assembly, where every country has a say, their hypocrisy would be scorned but for the imperative of caution on the part of vulnerable members; and Guinea is a vulnerable member, to say the least. It is not a small thing for a small country to cast a moral vote against the wishes of the United States. We must recognize the very real dangers involved. Ruining markets and destabilizing institutions are standard policies used against countries who dare challenge American power; and murderous retaliation, as history has shown, is not out of the question. Think of Guinea, under pressure, bordering six fragile states and the deep blue sea, saying “No!” to barbarism in front of a world fed up with Apache helicopters and “humanitarian assistance”. Here is the underdog as champion.

Finally, how can we ignore the tragic irony of black men debating plans for the attack and recolonization of an Arab country? How corrupted and desperate would be the West African leader who could consider approving such an invasion? If peanuts were petroleum, Conakry wouldn’t have potholes, but it would be an infinitely more dangerous place and, if disobedient, a military target.

The race war question has been generally ignored in the United States, but none of the colonies need instruction on this point. It is one of the main functions of tokenism to obscure this obvious problem. Powell shows up representing a country built on the forced labor of kidnapped Africans. It should be alarming that so many of their descendants are in the prisons and the infantry. While Powell was reciting the worn out platitudes of capitalism, is it possible the Ambassador heard sounds of drums and wild rivers, and the voice of Ahmed Sekou Toure proclaiming Guinea’s independence, as the French settlers and soldiers went out swearing revenge on their frightened but proud homeland? Does Colin Powell imagine that African diplomats don’t understand the importance of racism in generating internal support for white men’s wars? These are fair questions, left off the agenda.

This visit was a farce; already forgotten, even laughable. Not so laughable is the long list of victims. We use place names to recall the waste product of war. Like Auschwitz, like Hiroshima, Setif and Hanoi, Baghdad will not be forgotten. People everywhere see the pattern. As they like to say in Washington D.C., “The world is a dangerous place”. People everywhere are asking the question, “In whose interest is it so”?

- William Reichenbach is a writer and achitect. The Herald welcomes opposing views.


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