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A 21st Century Resource War: Emira Woods on How Racism, Extraction & Militarism Are Devastating Africa

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President Biden has pledged $55 billion to Africa over the next three years, announced during a three-day summit in Washington with leaders from 49 African nations. The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit was held as the United States is trying to counter the growing influence of China and Russia across the continent. President Biden also announced plans to visit sub-Saharan Africa next year for the first time as president, and expressed support for the African Union to join the G20 and for Africa to have permanent representation on the United Nations Security Council. We speak with Emira Woods, the executive director of the Green Leadership Trust and an ambassador for Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity. She says both Democratic and Republican administrations have seen Africa primarily as a place of geopolitical competition over resources. “What you see is that people on whose land those resources lie continue to be rendered invisible,” Woods says.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

President Biden has just wrapped up a three-day summit in Washington with leaders from 49 African nations. The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit was held as the U.S. is trying to counter the growing influence of China and Russia in Africa. During the summit, President Biden pledged $55 billion to Africa over the next three years.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We plan to commit $55 billion in Africa. … That number represents a comprehensive commitment from the United States to invest in Africa’s people, Africa’s infrastructure, Africa’s agriculture, Africa’s health system, Africa’s security and more.

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden also announced that he and Vice President Kamala Harris will visit sub-Saharan Africa next year for the first time as president and vice president. He expressed support for the Africa Union to join the G20 and for Africa to have permanent representation on the U.N. Security Council.

Senegalese President Macky Sall, who is the current chair of the African Union, refused to rule out also working with Russia and China, but welcomed Biden’s pledges.

PRESIDENT MACKY SALL: We share the same spirit. We want to advance our common agenda with you and take our partnership to the next level in an inclusive approach, bringing together governments, the private sector, civil society and the African diaspora.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, we’re joined by Emira Woods. She is executive director of the Green Leadership Trust, a network of Black, Brown and Indigenous people on boards of environmental organizations and philanthropies. Emira Woods is also an ambassador for Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity, originally from Liberia.

Emira, thanks so much for joining us again on Democracy Now! Talk about the significance of this three-day summit, what surprised you, what came out of this, and the relationship between the United States and these African nations that were there, and those that were not invited.

EMIRA WOODS: Well, Amy, it’s always a joy to be with you. Thank you so much for having space for this conversation.

I would say, you know, the summit, it comes after four dismal years of the Trump administration, where the former president was literally calling African countries, you know, derogatory terms, “S—hole countries,” right? I mean, the just shocking abuse that came out of that administration. So, when you see a summit like this, yes, it’s very much a photo op, right? But it’s a photo op coming after this period, when, quite frankly, it’s being welcomed.

I think we have to then look beyond the photo op to recognize that, you know, Africa is still very much — whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican administration, it’s still very much seen in the lens of geopolitics, but also in the lens of this resource war, right? I think what we have — we have to pull back the lens. Historically, African resources have driven the global economy, whether it is, you know, the cola that goes into Coca-Cola or the uranium that was from Democratic Republic of the Congo that was used for the uranium bomb dropped on Hiroshima. There is a long history of Africa’s resources being used by the global economy, being used, quite frankly, to create the industrialization that we see in Europe, in the U.S. It is the resources of Africa that drove that industrialization. Yet Africa did not benefit.

And so, what we see is that a global economy that is deeply unjust almost marginalizes — continues to marginalize Africa and the African world and people of African descent all over the world. It is a deeply kind of racist, capitalist extractive system that has, quite frankly, destroyed the planet, leading to climate change, global warming, disasters all over the planet. And what you see is that people on whose land those resources lie continue to be rendered invisible. So, whether it is China or Russia or the United States, the story is the same: the extraction at the expense of communities, at the expense particularly of women, children and people who are desperately seeking a healthy, brighter future.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaking to the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.

DEFENSE SECRETARY LLOYD AUSTIN: Regarding Russia and China, you know, the PRC, we’re witnessing the PRC expand its footprint in the — on the continent on a daily basis. And as they do that, they’re also expanding their economic influence. A troubling piece there is that they’re not always transparent in terms of what they’re doing, and that creates problems that will be eventually destabilizing, if they’re not already. In turning to Russia, we see Russia continuing to peddle cheap weapons. Some of that was mentioned before by one of our senior leaders here. And also we see Russia employing mercenaries across the continent, and that is destabilizing, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: So, if you, Emira Woods, can respond to this, I mean, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the difference between how China and Russia deal with Africa, and, I mean, the number of just U.S. military bases in Africa alone, and how Biden is trying to deal with countering Chinese, Russian influence?

EMIRA WOODS: So, let’s remember, Amy, that 90% of U.S. trade with Africa is in oil, gas and mining. It’s in the extractive resources. And it is in those areas where the resources lie that there has always been military interest. And this is from colonial days to the neocolonial days and regardless of the country — U.S., China, Russia. The military follows the companies — right? — the multinational corporations that are interested in extracting those resources. So, what you have had is an African continent where it is almost, you know, this geopolitical nightmare.

Pick one country. Somalia, let’s say. Right? Somalia, throughout the Cold War, went from the USSR to the U.S. almost trading — you know, trading their opportunities to dump weapons, particularly into Somalia, making Somalia incredibly ungovernable. We have to recognize that it is the interests in resources, whether it’s the uranium in the northern part of Somalia or the strategic positioning of Somalia in an area where the straits — where the global trade flows. It is the centrality of these countries that makes the global political battles more intense.

So, what you have had is the U.S. for the last 10 years expanding, actually, its military might in Africa, expanding the use of drones in places like Somalia, where you have seen untold deaths of civilians with the increased use of these drones. But, essentially, it’s the U.S. picking and choosing where to send and build military machineries that are then unleashed against the people. So, in the case of Somalia, it was the U.S. drones, but the U.S. also funneling weapons to Ethiopia for a ground war in Somalia and, again, militarizing a region that is already — what you see, the U.S. expanding its efforts to add to the conflict, to add to the chaos, in an interest to be able to have access and controlling those resources.

And you have a similar situation with increasing military expansion from China, increasing military expansion from Russia. And in each of those cases, it is both the uniformed officers, as well as the mercenaries, right? It is the U.S. military contractors, the increasing U.S. security and surveillance, whether it’s the Sahel or the Horn or throughout the continent. These relationships are being deepened.

And so, what you have is a real — a continued push by mostly fossil fuel-driven industries interested in the extraction. You have militaries then supporting those very narrowly defined, quote-unquote, “national interests.” And you have a continuation of relationships that are propping up those who are seeking to open up channels for the resources to flow.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Félix Tshisekedi, who addressed the issue of climate change at the summit.

PRESIDENT FÉLIX TSHISEKEDI: [translated] Since we are gathered here to speak about fighting against climate change, if you will allow me, I would like to first speak with regret to let you know about the crisis that my country — that my country has lived through, the first few hours, through the floods and the deluge and rains, because of the climate crisis that has caused hundreds of deaths, as well as enormous material damages, that could have been avoided if the commitments of the polluting countries would have been held, would have been kept for the past few years. So, it is imperious. It is necessary.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s DRC President Tshisekedi. Emira, like Democracy Now!, you were in Sharm el-Sheikh at the U.N. climate summit in Egypt. If you can talk about the issue that was the subject of the summit — loss and damage — the U.S. pushing hard against it, don’t want the liability, even though it’s historically the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, but what it means for Africa?

EMIRA WOODS: Clearly, Amy, what we see around the world, but particularly in Africa, is that those who do not — did not contribute to the climate crisis are paying the heaviest cost. So it is Black, Brown, Indigenous people around the world that are bearing the cost, right? So, remember, when we talk about Africa, the resources were extracted to industrialize the European continent, to industrialize the U.S., and those resources were extracted at the expense of communities where those resources lie.

And so, what you have seen is incredible climate change, global warming. The repercussions, the impacts on those communities, on their health, on their opportunity to live healthy lives, is disastrous. So, we have seen increases in floods, increases in heat waves throughout the world. And it is these deeply racist, structural, global economic decisions that are creating an unjust trading system, creating still the expansion in fossil fuels — oil, gas and mining — destroying communities.

In the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it’s the best example. There are, in the rainforests of the DRC, peatlands, that are actually opportunities for nature-based solutions to the climate crisis. These were solutions that Indigenous people, community-based people, who know the land, have been putting forward. So, I think we’ve got to recognize, when we talk about climate change, those who have paid the heaviest price are also those who have solutions and must be in the decision-making. And we saw in Sharm el-Sheikh, it was the fossil fuel lobbyists that outnumbered almost all delegations there in Egypt. And I think we’ve got to begin to recognize that we will continue to have a path of destruction of the planet, unless we change the structural systems that oppress communities.

So, the solutions are there. When it comes to loss and damage, the solution has been really clear. There must be reparations — right? — justice, centering justice in our global economy, understanding that those who have paid the heaviest price have also borne the cost, and there should be opportunities where there is investment in a just transition for the future, in renewable energy that is community-based, in opportunities to actually bring forward innovative financing. Right? So, there’s a lot of discussion of special drawing rights from the World Bank and the IMF, to innovative — to find solutions that would actually move resources towards the just transition, towards a Global Green New Deal, not only for Africa but for the world. And I think we —

AMY GOODMAN: Emira, we only have — we only have a minute, and I wanted to quickly ask you — President Biden and Vice President Harris, their trip to sub-Saharan Africa will be the first since President Obama. I was wondering if, in a minute, you could reflect on Obama’s legacy in Africa, but particularly look at the 2011 attack on Libya and the effect that had on the continent.

EMIRA WOODS: Once again, we’ve got to look at the issues of fossil fuel industries and militarism. That was the case in Libya, whether it’s for the Obama administration or now for the Biden administration and future administrations. It is getting rid of the power of the fossil fuel industry that will put us on a path that not only protects the planet but protects communities.

So, when we look at the Obama administration, we have to think about the expansion of AFRICOM, the U.S. Africa Command, which was established, quite frankly, you know — and its first act was in Libya. And I think we’ve got to recognize that with the expansion of militaries, there will be continuous both political and economic chaos.

We have seen the implications of the crisis in Libya. The ouster of Gaddafi, under the Obama administration, has led to disastrous results not only for Libya, but for the entire region, particularly the neighboring countries, and even countries as far off as Mali, where coups were being organized by those who carried guns, supplied by the U.S. and Libya, across borders into other states.

So, we’ve got to stop the flow of militarism. We’ve got to understand the links of militarism to the fossil fuel crisis, to the climate crisis. We’ve got to begin to create other opportunities, where fossil fuel companies are taxed and we look at opportunities to actually cap the flow of these harmful fossil fuels into our global economy. And we’ve got to look at all of these opportunities to change global governance, so that those particularly Black, Brown and Indigenous people have the opportunity for what you said at the beginning of this show in Puerto Rico: self-determination. This is the cry across the planet, self-determination of peoples.

AMY GOODMAN: Emira Woods, I want to thank you so much for being with us, executive director of the Green Leadership Trust, also ambassador for Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity, originally from Liberia.

Coming up, we look at why the White House pressured Senator Sanders to withdraw a resolution to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Cabral” by Senegal’s Orchestra Baobab, in honor of the Pan-Africanist revolutionary Amilcar Cabral.

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