Africans without a privilege: is the Maghreb the Black Swan of US diplomacy?

Author:Bouasria, Abdelilah
Position:Essay
 
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North Africa regained, in the last year, a new visibility in American eyes with the ever-increasing threats of violence by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) that carried out attacks such as the storming, in 2012, of the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and the hostage crisis at the Algerian Amenas Gas facility in January 2013. "King Hassan is the leader of a great nation at the crossroads of two continents, lying on NATO's southern flank at the entrance to the Mediterranean. It has deep ties to Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and the whole Islamic world. We therefore discussed not only bilateral relations but a wide range of regional and global issues." Thus spoke Ronald Reagan, a US president whom we value on both sides of the political spectrum, on May 19, 1982 about Morocco and its king. Jimmy Carter, the soft side of President Reagan, had held on November 14 1978 the following wisdom: "one of the staunch allies and friends of President Sadat who courageously supported him when he made his historic journey to Jerusalem almost exactly 12 months ago was King Hassan of Morocco. It was not an easy thing for him to do. He was castigated and criticized by some because he expressed his friendship and support for that giant step toward peace." This mediating role has shamefully been silenced by the same Palestinian voices that King Hassan was advocating in a revisionist Goliath-like intellectual "orientalism" but as one Moroccan proverb goes: "You cannot hide the sun with a sieve."

More recently, Morocco's police arrested Ali Anouzla because his online news outlet, Lakome, published a story about a video by AQIM, titled "Morocco: Kingdom of Corruption and Despotism", which allegedly "incites for violence and terrorism" and criticizes Morocco's king, without charging the Moroccan journalist, who used to be Morocco's correspondent of Radio SAWA (our American public diplomacy arm in the MENA region), with any crime. However, North Africa continues to be among the keynote orphans of President Obama's foreign policy. (i) Indeed, US President Barack Obama himself has not set foot in Central Africa, let alone the Maghreb, since his transitory stopovers to Egypt and Ghana, during his first year in office, and to Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa for one week in June 2013, in a pretty unsatisfactory move, for the son of an African born immigrant. Furthermore, for more than eight months after the presidential swearing in, there was still no ambassador to the African Union, nor was there a permanent assistant administrator of USAID for Africa. Obama's secretary of State John Kerry, whose wife Teresa (a graduate of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg) was born in Mozambique, did not seize the Carpe Diem offered by the African partners-to-be, failing to see, probably under the spell of Middle East-ensnared K street "activists," the value of pivoting Washington's strategic focus away from the security quagmires of the Middle East, with its Syrian and Egyptian hot issues. Moroccan King Mohammed VI is set to pay an official visit to Washington this October, first face-to-face meeting between the two heads of state, to meet President Barack Obama to discuss some issues like the future of diplomacy between the two nations, the Sahara issue, counterterrorism and maybe the Ali Anouzla affair.

North Africa can potentially become the hub of a new gold rush for the fiscally challenged, financially drained, United States, once the instant experts and Hill charlatans stop acting, diplomatically, as the blind man who fails to recognize the elephant. (ii) The African hope lies in its very large middle class, of more than 380 million people, constantly looking to consume new products and services which meet global standards. The continent has vast natural resources such as water and land that are exhausted due to natural or artificial reasons. Hence, only 7% of African water supplied to agriculture comes from a source other than natural rain, and with global warming, water seems to be riding a scarcity slope. Furthermore, competitiveness, -- due to war, politics or just cronyism -- between national or regional governmental institutions in charge of implementing numerous international conventions, is behind the depletion of North Africa's resources. Thus, the way out, as we explain in our last section, for Obama's team, is to select wisely, from the American North African diaspora, those who will "chip in" to the arduous task of creating a new Maghreb, far from both the autocratic lobbies embedded in "couscous diplomacy" and the frantic neocons blinded by the profits generated by a terrorizing theocracy. Indeed, US Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson judiciously stated earlier this year: "It is my firm belief that Africa represents the next global economic frontier" also remarking that American entrepreneurs lack the knowhow to take full advantage of this bonanza. (iii)

It is true, as the grand Nelson Mandela once said, that "Money won't create success" as much as "the freedom to make it will" but it is correspondingly accurate, as the acerbic Bernard Shaw confessed, that "lack of money is the root of all evil." We, as Americans from the unprivileged Africa (Maghreb), do not want to become these "universal receivers" of aid, to be remembered only when states fail or when pirates sail. The "cautious" voices in the White House will be quick here to justify the lack of interest, on the part of US foreign officials, in the Maghreb region, through the typical "if it ain't broke do not fix it" attitude, or by claiming budgetary poverty, and any attempt, by a Bill Gates of foreign policy, at changing this paradigm will be met with resistance. The rationale of this not-so-entrepreneurial understanding of allocation of resources is that the conventional Merchant of Venice reasoning is the fact that using resources will deplete them, a very archaic and not-so-Darwinian way of looking at sustainability. On the contrary, shrewd executives know the value of investing where others do not want to spend because investing where everyone spends makes both prices and fierce competition go up. It is perhaps timely here to recall when President George Washington, whose legacy we cherish, counseled his adopted grandson never to "let an indigent person ask, without receiving something if you have the means, always recollecting in what light the widow's mite was viewed." We, as North African American (NAMS), are not asking the US foreign policy makers, for more resources, but we are demanding different funds, and we are only asking from our secretary of state to step out of the business as usual reflex. One is tempted to ask, as the Cameroonian intellectual AxelleKabou rightly did regarding Africa, if the Maghreb, far from playing the role of a race hare that allows others to follow it, does not refuse development. Without believing in the immutability of the Maghreb, or of anything for that matter, one should not "hide the sun with a sieve" as one Moroccan proverb goes. The Maghreb should not be branded to Americans as that land where everything shines where the president and the monarch (whomever that may be) married happily ever after.

Africa today has over one billion people, and in 2050, it will represent a quarter of the global workforce to the extent that some analysts, such as Jean-Michel Severino who speaks, in his book The Age of Africa, of a demographic bonus. Not all those profiteers of the African demographic expansion carry good intentions. Hence, when two French citizens were arrested in September 19, 2012 for pedophilia in the Moroccan city of Marrakech, the local police seized in their "business plan" 526 obscene photos and 30 videos featuring gullible children. Moreover, the French philosopher Luc Ferry denounced on a French TV program (Canal +) the involvement of a French "former minister" in a case of pedophilia in Marrakech. Leaving the Parisian gaze aside, the Spanish TV channel Antena 3 had released, in 2006, a report on sex tourism in Morocco, produced by four reporters disguised as tourists, in which a tour guide tells the vice investors in front of a school in Marrakech: "go and pick any schoolgirl you want." This buffet hospitality is a trend in many North African cities, where the guardians rush to serve the wolverines meaty hors d'oeuvres, where a woman shoves the "missionaries" of the North her progeny, minors in many cases, to be "shopped" for few euros. Since the United States took on its shoulder the global mission of fighting drugs and human trafficking, which are avenues used by terrorist groups, it should link that issue to its to-do-list in North Africa.

The specter of terrorism is another problem in the Maghreb. Many US tycoons of the private sector warned against a foreign direct investment in Africa, for its potential reversal through capital flight should Al-Qaeda and other villains imperil the security of multinational installations. Meanwhile the terrorist movement of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is using the Tuareg crisis in Mali and the volatility in Libya to gain a terrain in Mauritania and Niger, our eyes are going Russian on us with a Syrian outsourcing. With the advent of the Syrian genocide, our fear is that North Africa will again become the weakest link in the US-MENA microwaveable strategic alliance.

Substituting the foreign with the local is no better solution either. In fact, since the end of colonialism, nearly all African countries were led by ambition-free elites who wore the garb of their former colonizers without carrying their visionary headgear. Hence, the colonial system was "nationalized" and many Africans simply became state clerks, studying for free for many years, only to become those eternal unemployed graduates who are bitterly and grudgingly unable to fit into their society's active mosaic, turning ultimately into a first reserve...

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