by Eric Margolis
While the refugee mess in Central Africa monopolizes western attention, equally ugly and far more noteworthy events are happening elsewhere in black Africa.
Millions of Africans are hungry and homeless in Angola, Mozambique, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Chad, Sierra Leone and Madagascar, The west's myopic hysteria over homeless Hutus ignores equal or greater human suffering elsewhere in Africa - not to mention Asia.
Hutus are the cause du jour. Starving Angolans are not.
Meanwhile, the US and France are locked in an increasingly nasty competition for influence in Africa, one that recalls the race to carve up the continent's riches by European powers a century ago. Then, France. Britain, Portugal and Belgium were the main colonial exploiters of Africa, with Italy and Germany pecking at the scraps. Today, Britain and Portugal are gone; Belgium still has some residual influence in Zaire (ex-Congo), Rwanda and Burundi.
In the early 1960's, France proclaimed its former colonies of French West Africa independent. In reality, France installed black colonial overseers, called `presidents,' who took their orders from Paris and were kept in power by French troops. West African governments were run by French officials, bankers and technicians behind a facade of pin- striped black ministers. In exchange, France got prestige, mineral wealth, and captive export markets.
Recently, cash-strapped France has reduced financial support of client African regimes, and is cutting its permanent African garrison from 12,000 to 9,000 troops. Belgium and Britain have also slashed aid to their bankrupt African ex-colonies.
But, at the same time, France began asserting influence in Africa's three great mineral treasure-houses, South Africa, Angola and Zaire. Paris also armed the former Hutu regime in Rwanda, with the aim of replacing Belgium as the patron of Rwanda and Burundi.
To Frances's deep chagrin and sharp pique, the US has had the audacity to expand its influence in Africa, a continent deemed by Paris a French geopolitical preserve. Two years ago, Washington opened discreet contacts with Algerian opposition groups, outraging Paris, which strongly backs that strife-torn nation's military regime. The Americans, muttered the French, had designs on Algeria's oil and uranium.
Washington then became patron of Ghana, one of Africa's better-run nations. The US abandoned its virtual African colony, Liberia, which was demolished by civil war, and jumped ship to Ghana. In East Africa, the US moved decisively into Eritrea, Uganda, and Ethiopia, providing aid, arms and food. In the 50's and 60's, before communists seized power, the US and Ethiopia were close military and political allies. Washington has now formed an alliance of Eritrea, Uganda and Ethiopia directed at overthrowing the Islamic government of Sudan - another target of US strategic interest.
In recent months, the US has championed Rwanda's new Tutsi- led government. Paris and Washington are now vying to see who can wield influence over Zaire after the death of President Mobutu, its ailing king-god. Mobutu was put into power by CIA and has been Washington's Congolese overseer for 30 years. His potential successors are being ardently courted by Paris.
Both French President Chirac and President Clinton have proposed an African peace-keeping force to act as continental gendarme. Washington wants six major African nations to put up 1,800 soldiers each. The US offers to pay half the cost and supply air transport. Paris has proposed a 5,000-man force - led by France, bien sure.
These plans make good sense - far more than silly proposals by Canada to rush soldiers trained in Arctic warfare to the steamy, malarial heart of Africa. The plans are also unabashedly neo-colonial: as in the last century, white officers will command black African troops. However politically incorrect, this system works for Africa.
Black Africans have shown they are incapable or unwilling to aid their neighbors. Each time there is a crisis, non- Africans most send food, aid, money and relief workers. Big, wealthy nations like Nigeria and South Africa, who have large armed forces, transport aircraft and ample doctors, leave cleaning up African messes to the west. So long as white do-gooders keep rushing to rescue black Africans from disasters created by their own regimes, disasters will continue.
The west would do Africa a favor by refusing any more aid, demand African leaders stop looting their treasuries, and sort out their own problems. For good example, Angola, if properly run, alone could feed all of black Africa.
But the west won't tell Africans to grow up because its policy is being driven by a combination of guilt and greed. Most of the western aid groups in Africa - international social workers- such as the leftwing Caritas and Oxfam, are latter-day missionaries, crusading to save black souls from the twin `evils' of capitalism and encroaching Islam,
Like missionaries of yore, these international social workers loudly demand western military intervention to save Africans from themselves - as in the current Central African mess, which they largely created by supporting Hutu mass murderers. Hysterical claims by western aid groups and the UN that a million Hutu would starve by Christams were outrageous lies promoted by a gullible press and seized upon by self-serving politicians.
Greed for Africa's vast, untapped mineral riches drives the rest of our policy. As in the last century, the white man blesses black Africans with one hand, while he picks their pockets with the other - a process in which Africa's leaders cheerfully cooperate all the way to their numbered Swiss accounts.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]