“Cockroach don’t business in chicken fight!” No doubt there’s an African equivalent of this proverb I learned as a child, which warns would-be meddlers against getting involved in other people’s affairs. I offer this proverb to President Obama as he ponders U.S. engagement in North Africa. The current uprisings in Libya and the rest of that region have little to do with threatening U.S. security, financial or otherwise. Rather, they are more of a threat to the desire of France and the U.K. to maintain a power base in the region for their own social and economic security.
It is interesting to note that Brazil, Russia, India and China—the so-called BRIC nations—abstained from voting in the U.N. Security Council Resolution on a no-fly zone over Libya. The BRICs are fully engaged in the economic development taking place in Africa, where growth has been outpacing that of Europe, especially that of the PIIGS—Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain—and whose population of nearly 1 billion includes a middle class that is predicted to surpass India’s in size by 2015. The BRICs know which side their bread is buttered on in this post-Great Recession era.
I hope President Obama’s decision to visit Latin America in pursuit of business opportunities for American firms and improved relations in our hemisphere is testament to his wisdom in leaving the warmongering to others. The Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement subsequently signed with Brazil includes $1 billion in U.S. Exim Bank trade financing for infrastructure in Brazil’s oil sector, and additional financing for joint projects by U.S. and Brazilian firms in third countries, mainly Africa.
These activities are more important to the social and economic prosperity of the U.S. than dropping bombs on Libya, at a cost of more than $100 million a day, to satisfy French President Sarkozy’s desire to establish an African Mediterranean zone for the economic benefit of his country. A May 2010 editorial published by Ocnus News on the contentious European Union plan to bail out the falling Euro reaffirms France’s financial dependence on Africa. “The Germans, who provide the bulk of the cash, were bludgeoned into agreement by Sarkozy of France who twice threatened to pull France out of the Eurozone if the Germans wouldn’t go along with the plan. This is very important as France is not playing only with its own money. To a large degree it is cushioned by the reserves it holds from francophone Africa as part of the integration of the CFA francs into the Eurozone.”
If the meeting of Western allies in France prior to the beginning of their air attacks on Libya was in any way a revisit of the late nineteenth-century gathering at the Berlin residence of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck to carve up Africa, then today’s European leaders have lost their bearings and their minds. Africa is on a different course today and is of a mindset more firmly steeped in Pan Africanism.
France therefore faces the prospect of losing its monetary cushion, which stems from an arrangement wrangled by French President Charles De Gaulle stipulating that 65 percent of the foreign reserves of the newly independent former colonies must be stored in the French treasury, with another 20 percent of their reserves put toward covering their “financial liabilities” with France. That arrangement holds to this day, some six decades later, propping up the French economy and denying the African countries any recourse to the funds. These African benefactors of France do not know, nor are they told, how much of the pool of foreign reserves held by the French Treasury belongs to them as a group or individually. The earnings on the French Treasury’s investment of these funds are supposed to be added to the pool, but the high officials in the French Treasury who have knowledge of the accounts, their investments, and the return on these investments are prohibited from disclosing any of this information to the CFA banks or the central banks of the African states that supply the funds.
In 2009, I attended a week-long program in Dakar, Senegal, in which President Wade invited African-American and continental African investment bankers to explore opportunities in the finance sector as an alternative to the old CFA regime. President Wade expresses Pan African sentiments similar to those of Colonel Qaddafi, witnessed by the colossal African Renaissance monument built in Dakar to represent the resurgence of an Africa in the hands of Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora.
If Sarkozy wants or needs a Mediterranean zone to replace the Francophone zone that France is destined to lose, he should finance it with French money and French lives, not American. Similarly, if British Prime Minister David Cameron entertains fantasies of conquering territories in Africa, he must pay for his own adventures. I am sure there are still Arabs and Africans who are willing to accommodate any kind of monetary or military arrangement that will guarantee their own personal power and wealth. However, they should be aware that, in these days of WikiLeaks and unfettered digital access to information, the chickens will come home to roost before night.
Let us examine where American values and interests intersect in this new global arena before we squander our limited resources to fight the battles of other people, whose long-term interests may not be to our benefit. It was right for President Obama to spend time building relationships in the Americas, where there is a need to find ways to shape 21st Century values out of our common experiences of the last 500 years. “Promoting a safe, stable, and prosperous hemisphere where the United States and our partners share responsibility on key regional and global issues is the most effective means of defending our core democratic values in the Americas,” the President said. “We export three times more to Latin America than to China. Our exports to the region that are growing faster than with the rest of the world will sustain in a very short term, more than 2 million jobs in the United States.”
Between 1998 and 2009, U.S. merchandise trade with Latin America grew by 82 percent compared to 72 percent for Asia (driven largely by China), 51 percent for the European Union, and 221 percent for Africa. Those of us who advocate on behalf of small, minority and women-owned business enterprises should insist that America keep its eyes on the prize—the growth taking place in Latin America and Africa, where our cultural, historical, and family connections will serve us best—and not on the distraction of the futile madness being undertaken by 21st century Bismarckists.
Fritz-Earle Mc Lymont is a New York City-based entrepreneur who is actively involved in Africa, and managing director of NMBC Global, the international arm of the National Minority Business Council, Inc. He may be contacted at Fmclymont1@nmbc.org