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Horace Campbell: Obama Takes “Imperial Tour” of Africa as World Honors Ailing Mandela

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President Obama’s three-nation tour of Africa moves from Senegal to South Africa today before wrapping up in Tanzania. Obama’s stated goals are to raise investment opportunities for U.S. businesses, address development issues such as food security, and promote democracy. His visit to South Africa comes at a time of tremendous uncertainty as former President Nelson Mandela remains in critical condition in the hospital. We discuss Obama’s trip to Africa with Professor Horace Campbell, a professor of African American studies and political science at Syracuse University who has written extensively on African politics. His recent article for CounterPunch is “The Imperial Tour: Militarism and Plunder.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to President Obama’s three-nation tour of Africa. He arrived Tuesday in—today in South Africa after visiting Senegal, where he stopped at Gorée Island, the port from where African slaves were forcibly sent to the United States. Obama reflected on the significance of the visit for him and his family.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Obviously, it’s a very powerful moment whenever I can travel with my family, but especially for Michelle and Malia and, you know, my mother-in-law to be able to come here and to fully appreciate the magnitude of the slave trade, to get a sense, in a very intimate way, of the incredible inhumanity and hardship that people faced before they made the Middle Passage and that crossing.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama’s visit to South Africa today comes at a time of tremendous uncertainty as former President Nelson Mandela remains in critical condition in the hospital. Obama has called Mandela, quote, “a hero for the world and a lifelong personal inspiration.”

For more on Obama’s trip to Africa, we’re joined by Professor Horace Campbell, professor of African American studies and political science at Syracuse University. His new book is called Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya. Horace Campbell recently wrote an <a href=”>article for CounterPunch called “The Imperial Tour: Militarism and Plunder,” which seeks to give context for Obama’s trip to Africa.

Professor Campbell, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about the significance of this trip. It’s President Obama’s second since he became president.

HORACE CAMPBELL: Thank you for inviting us to speak about this moment, this moment when we’re all praying for the health and well-being of President Mandela. But this tour by Barack Obama comes as the most inopportune moment for the people of Africa, because this is diverting attention at a moment when we wanted to focus our energies on supporting the health and well-being of Mandela.

Secondly, the Mandela—the Obama trip to Africa does not bring anything to the African people. In your segment in discussing the immigration in this country, we heard from our brothers and sisters about the militarization of the border. Obama has gone to Africa without publicly denouncing the militarization of Africa that was attempted by the United States Africa Command. In the past two years, Obama has sought to retreat from the U.S. Africa Command by not mentioning the U.S. Africa Command, and saying they want a paradigm shift in terms of moving towards investment and trade. But the United States of America is in the midst of a massive financial and economic crisis, and they do not have investment and trade to offer Africa. They cannot compete with the rising powers of the world—Brazil, India and China, especially China. When the Chinese president went to Africa—and Obama is visiting two of the countries that he visited—they offered $20 billion in new investment in Africa, and in Tanzania alone they offered $10 billion for infrastructure development. Chinese trade with Africa has multiplied 20 times in the past 10 years, from $10 billion to $198 billion. So the United States, in the midst of a financial crisis, in the midst of sequestration, has nothing to offer.

And, most importantly, the significance of that trip of Obama going to Gorée Island yesterday, this was a moment when Barack Obama could have made a statement to the reparations movement of the world. When he stood at the Door of No Return, Obama, trapped by this liberal background about human rights, spoke about human rights at Gorée Island, when he should be speaking about human life, because the enslavement of the African persons was about the destruction of human life. It was about the devaluation of Africans as human beings. But trapped by his liberal conception of the world, Obama could only mouth some phrases about this reminded him about human rights. The reparations movement is saying to the world, the trans-Atlantic slave trade represented a crime against humanity. And the peace movement, the reparations movement, the demilitarization movement has to see this moment of Obama in Africa as a culmination of the contradictions of the United States foreign policy towards Africa.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Professor Campbell, if you could talk—we have a couple of minutes—about the importance of the aid that China has been giving in terms of infrastructure development versus the investment of American companies and extractive industries in Africa?

HORACE CAMPBELL: Well, the Chinese have been involved in Africa as part of its global expansion. In fact, one has to see the relations between China and Africa in terms of China’s reach into Europe, into Asia, into Latin America and in Africa. And in this reach, the Chinese are way ahead in terms of their planning for their economic transformation, which we must remind the audience was based on principles of socialist planning. Now, there is a struggle going inside of China between different branches of the Communist Party, but one should remind the audience that the ruling party in China is a communist party.

Now, in the past 10 years, the Chinese have signed infrastructure-for-resources deals in 20 African countries. These infrastructure-for-resources deals means that a country such as Angola was able to get around the bullying tactics of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. And so this infrastructure projects of the Chinese in Africa has changed Africa to the point where the African economies are now at the leading edge of transformation.

And what one needs in Africa is to promote the revolutionary processes in Africa that started in Egypt, so that one can remove those governments in Africa that are an obstacle to the economic and political transformation in Africa. As the young people of Tunisia and Egypt said, it’s time to change the political system. And all over the world, young people of Brazil, Turkey, are on the streets calling for a change in the political system. So although the Chinese have invested in infrastructure in Africa, there is a problem in that the political leadership, in the main, they have been an obstacle to the reconstruction of the African societies to make it more responsive to the needs of Africa so that those resources that are in Africa can serve the needs of the people.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Campbell, we have to end it there, but I’d like to ask you to stay after the show. We’ll do a post-show interview and post it online at, and particularly talk about South Africa and the significance of President Nelson Mandela. Professor Horace Campbell teaches African American studies at Syracuse University.

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