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U.S.-African Relations

Are Americans still uncomfortable about race issues?

August 30, 2001

Are Americans still uncomfortable about race issues?

U.S.-African relations go back hundreds of years. At the beginning, it was a rather ghastly trade relationship — with African slaves being the main commodity. Later on, Africa became something like a spiritual focal point for large parts of the U.S. civil rights movement. Even today, racism is a highly charged issue — as the U.S. government’s refusal to participate in the UN’s World Conference Against Racism makes plain. Our new Read My Lips feature takes a look at where U.S.-African relations stand.

What is the U.S. handicap in dealing with Africa?

“The United States is only 200 years old, and it’s not long since people like me were slaves there. America is not sophisticated enough to deal with the sensitivity of human life.”

(Boxer Mike Tyson, January 2000)

Just how overwhelming is the United States for Africans?

“I know of no other period in human history where one country had as much direct and indirect global influence as the United States does today — reaching even into the most remote villages on our own continent.”

(Thabo Mbeki, president of South Africa, May 2000)

Is U.S. foreign policy too overwhelming for some?

“How can they have the arrogance to dictate to us where we should go and which countries should be our friends?”

(Nelson Mandela, on U.S. opposition to his state visit to Libya, December 1997)

What is it like to receive assistance from the United States?

“I feel that our so-called development partners are not really partners.”

(Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, July 2000)

How much should the United States get involved in Africa’s problems?

“We cannot make peace among Africans. Africans themselves must bear the lion’s share of the responsibility for bringing stability to the continent.”

(Colin Powell, U.S. Secretary of State, May 2001)

Any prospect of change in U.S.-African relations due to the new Bush Administration?

“I really believe that Powell will stand up to Bush — and be a voice for Africa.”

(Kitenge Masethla, Internet café employee in Mali, May 2001)

Is the U.S. Secretary of State accepted as an African?

“We welcome our brother to Africa. I hope it’s a sign that he still has faith in Africans.”

(Abbey Makoe, editor of the Mali Independent, on U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s visit to Africa, May 2001)

Do you agree, Mr. Secretary?

“I am African. My roots are in Africa.”

(Colin Powell, U.S. Secretary of State, May 2001)

And what about other Africans?

“What African really want to know is: who is Colin Powell loyal to?”

(Sipho Seepe, South African political analyst, May 2001)

Do Africans have a point complaining about the United States?

“They find it pretty hard to understand that we’re going around saying we have the world’s greatest economy, and that we have a huge budget surplus — and they are there digging themselves out of garbage.”

(Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, October 2000)

Where did the United States go wrong?

“I didn’t appreciate at all the extent to which our interpretation of South Africa’s international property obligations were draconian.”

(Charlene Barshefsky, former U.S. Trade Representative, on her restrictive AIDS policy, March 2001)

How severe is Africa’s AIDS problem?

“The heart of the next generation is threatened.”

(U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, May 2001)

And finally, can Africa set an example for some in the United States?

“Well, my freshman Republican friends, come to Africa. It’s a freshman Republican’s paradise. Yes sir, nobody in Liberia pays taxes. There’s no gun control in Angola. There’s no welfare as we know it in Burundi — and no big government to interfere with the market in Rwanda.”

(New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, March 1999)