‘Dear America’

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An Abridged ‘Open Letter to America’ written in 1999 by an anonymous Zambian Journalist: Cited in Global Shadows, Africa in the Neoliberal World Order.


Dear America,


I know you’ve heard it many times by now: your policy in dealing with international crises is very selective. Europe is more important than Africa, Bosnia is more important that Rwanda, Kosovo than Sierra Leone. Why you have not been told yet is what we, the Africans living in Africa, think about not only your actions, but your motives and the underlying principles of your heart.


Your selectivity reveals four realities about the Western world to us: global racism exists and it determines international policy, capitalism is above compassion, the African debt is a deliberate strategy, and finally, democracy is not practiced by its preachers.


Racism, the greatest killer of the human race since time immemorable, is still the strongest force…


The irony of the Kosovo crisis is that it was caused by racism (at the ethnic level) and it was saved by racism (At the international level). NATO has shown that it has a colour, it is not as colourless as it presents itself to the world. It has a face and its face is pigmented: it is white. It has shown that the fact that whites rule America and other NATO countries is a significant fact and it does determine what happens to non-white “nations” in times of crisis…


America and her partners practice a racism/tribalism that is worse that that of Serbians against ethnic Albanians, or Tutsis against Hutus. She does not use guns and machetes, she uses the greatest weapon of mass destruction ever invented: the international credit (Debt) system. She wields this weapon against all the people that it hates. And the ones at the top of the list, apparently, are Africans.


America, World Bank, NATO, or whatever name you choose to disguise yourself in, it is clear that you do not care about Africa. If you admit this it will be easier for us. At least Milosevic has admitted his hatred for “the lower class” and Hitler never pretended about his anti-Semitic feelings. These evil men will at least be respected for their honesty. It is better to be killed by a man who calls himself your enemy than by one who pretends to be your friend…


The graves caused by the gruesome effects of the debt held against Africa are all around us: people die every day of easily curable diseases simply because there is no money in African nations. It has to go to servicing the debt we owe our masters…


Debt reduction is not enough for Africa. Neither is debt cancellation enough. We must fight for compensation. They are the ones who owe us money…


The amount of money they owe us has to be calculated… They owe us for taking some of the strongest men among us to go and work in their plantations. How much has that affected our productive output up to this day?


They owe us for the unfair dealings they did with our unsuspecting chiefs (a gun for miles of land). They owe us for taking the rich minerals out of our land with no permission and with no tariffs. They owe us for brainwashing us to their religions that taught us that poverty was a way of pleasing God and that there is another world after death where things would be better for us, thus taking from us our will to fight for the things they were stealing from us…


So, should they reduce our debt? Should the cancel our debt? No. There is nothing to reduce or cancel here. We owe them nothing; they owe us big time. They are the ones who should be begging for debt reduction from us. They owe each African nation hundreds of billions of dollars… I propose to African professors that they should sit down and calculate the exact figure…


Finally, the present crisis has revealed that there is no democracy in the developed world, or it means something other than what they tell us. Democracy is when the people rule. When the voices of the majority rule. Well, the earth consists of more people in Third World countries than in developed ones, and they have unanimously decided that the debt against them should be cancelled…. Is democracy just an American idea, to be practiced only within the confines of their borders? And even then, their own people believe that they should cancel our debt and that they should intervene fairly in global issues everywhere. They don’t listen to them either. Is that democracy?


But let me not allow these closing sentiments to cloud the real call of my article: we want our money back. We need compensation for what has been stolen from us. If we do not fight for it we will be betraying the people that have died because of it. We will be betraying the African slaves, the freedom fighters, the men women, and children that have died from disease and the millions who will die today. It’s a debt we cannot forgive.


Written in 1999, during the Kosovo intervention, on which NATO became championed for its impressive and effective swift response to genocide, this letter was especially poignant. It illustrates the failings of the International institutions to respond in Rwanda, during the ethnic genocide and civil war between the Hutus and Tutsis. It is important to contextualize the letter in order to consider the angered and powerful sentiments of the discourse. One could be cynical, and argue that in 2014, the rise of grassroots NGOs and an increasingly localised approach to tackling ‘global’ issues undermine the relevancy of the letter. That in this readjusting global order, and the decline of US unipolar dominance, the validity of the finger pointing can be pointed towards ‘equally exploitative’ neo-imperialist states such as China and Canada, tarred with the same brush, in its current ‘scramble’ for African minerals. One could definitely argue that the former ‘West’ is beginning to see the error of its ways and that the smell of international change is in the air, most notably due to the ever-apparent consequences of climate change and global warming.


Nonetheless, I think the direct message of this letter is resolute and critically important for a number of reasons. I think it stands to illustrate the perpetuation and continuing existence of hegemony and static binaries by which we perceive global order, and our insufficiency to see beyond this stagnant, unsustainable conception. This letter highlights how both the West and in the ‘victim’ states themselves perpetuate such neo-liberal sentiments of a divided world.


Firstly, one must note how the letter is self-consciously addressed to “the West.” It therefore insists on the symbiotic relationship and continuing connection between the “ Global North” and the “ Global South”. What I find perhaps slightly disheartening is the way by which it seeks to fall short of priding Africa for its difference and individuality from the West, satirising the notion of the ‘White hero’ misconception. Instead, the letter defines and portrays Africa as parasitic and dependent on the ‘West’ rather than seeking to challenge the very heart of the insidious nature of neoliberal ideology. The author evidently uses the rhetoric and symbolism of the ‘West’ to define Africa. It is as if it is inconceivable that it can take its own initiative to manipulate its relative disadvantage to unstable and question the bedrock ideology of neo-liberalism, which firmly entrenches the current existing international power relations.


What is important however, is the way by which the letter draws attention to the responsibility the West has to recognise its crippling impact its hegemonic international dominance has had on the South. Forcing us to acknowledge this relationship rather than abandoning it. The letter stands symbolically to suggest that with the rise of communication and increasing global discourse, silenced voices can be heard. The fact that you now are probably reading this in the rooks and crannies of some lovely Glaswegian café illustrates the importance that in this world of growing and accessible communication, such impressive, silenced opinions are now being heard. When I read this letter for the first time, I was struck by its honesty, and felt the necessity to increase its readership, as if it was the least I could do. Take it or leave it. Regardless of whether you are cynical of the content of this letter, it certainly forces to take a long hard look at ourselves, to re-evaluate the sincerity of our pledges of ‘democracy’ and ‘liberation’ we so fiercely pride ourselves on.


Words by Sophia Gore


Photo: The Telegraph


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