Men in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, wait for work. Because of the shortage of gasoline, workers detach the back half of pick-up trucks and pull them like large rickshaws.
Our links with Africa through U.S. policies
in multilateral institutions such as the IMF
and the World Bank are complex and may
seem indirect. By contrast, our connection
with Africa in environmental terms is quite
direct. Africa is one of the major repositories
of tropical forests-in biological terms, the
lungs of the planet and a global incubator
of life, in which countless plant species are
preserved. It is in our self-interest to protect
the biological legacy of the rain forests.
Many factors are implicated in the land
degradation and deforestation that are
occurring in parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
Poverty, population growth (which is con-
nected to poverty), the debt crisis and the
World Bank's relentless stress on market
forces have encouraged unregulated plunder
of Africa's timber resources. We ignore the
problem at our peril.
Molded by the West
It is important that Africa find long-term
stability. While much of the instability is
attributed to infamous individuals, often they
have had direct ties to the United States
(Mobutu, Savimbi, Siad Barre) or have
thrived within political structures molded by
Western power. Though nothing excuses
tyrants such as Idi Amin or Bokassa from
responsibility for their own decisions, the
political world in which Africans live is not
a world entirely of their own making.
The West often has had a hand in the
fray, establishing a Mobutu in firm power,
for example, then blanung the people of
Zaire for not creating democracy. Unfortu-
nately, while the intentions of the average
U.S. citizen are laudatory, the effects of
U.S. policy, molded by many interests, are
not always so praiseworthy.
In the 1990s a major emphasis of U.S.
policy in Africa has been to encourage
political reform, defined as accountable
governrnent, respect of basic civil liberties
and human rights, and multiparty elections.
To promote democracy is a worthy goal.
Yet the practice has differed dramatically
from the goal.
In Zambia, a year after the multiparty
elections in which Kenneth Kaunda accepted
defeat and Frederick Chiluba came to
power, local elections were held, but only
20 percent of rural people voted. In Mali's
multiparty elections in 1993, marking the
transition from military single-party rule to
a democratic regime, rural dwellers stayed
away from the polls in large numbers. This
abstinence was not a result of ignorance; it
was a vote in itself.
Furthermore, political transitions increase
tensions. First, liberalization creates more
political places for the elites without signifi-
cantly changing policy toward ordinary cit-
izens. Many Africans see democratization
simply as an excuse to contain wealth and
privilege among the elites, rather than as a
means to address the needs of the poor.
Second, as a result, many people have
become alienated from their governrnents.
Is this, in fact, a way of preserving old pat-
terns of power in a new guise, as many
people in Africa perceive?
True democratization means fully address-
ing the needs of the poor. But Western
involvement has balked at such political
transformations. We have often intervened
to save the elites. For years, in the name of
democracy, for example, we supported
white rule in South Mrica; elsewhere
British and French policies have long put
enormous resources into the support of
"moderate" leaders, failing to realize that a
stable, truly democratic political order is
more to our advantage than an unstable
political structure that excludes the majority
from any meaningful participation in the
Withdrawal is not an option today. We
are faced with the problem of what form
in this issue
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