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George W. Bush’s phenomenal success in Africa: The SIS/AU connection

28 June 2016 at 00:53 | 2592 views

Commentary

By Abdul Karim Bangura, USA.

Not since the days of the presidency of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1961-1963) had Africans come to love and revere an American President as they came to do George W. Bush. As the doyen of Africa’s international relations Ali Al’amin Mazrui recounts, in 1960 Kennedy via his family’s Kennedy Foundation donated $100,000 to support 260 Kenyans who had been offered admissions into American colleges and universities but lacked the money for fares. The request was made by Thomas Joseph Odhiambo Mboya, a Kenyan author, Cabinet Minister and one of the founding fathers of the Republic of Kenya, educationist, freedom fighter, Pan-Africanist, and trade unionist.

Mazrui quotes Kennedy when he states in his inaugural address that “To those peoples in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required—not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right.” As soon as he took office, Mazrui notes, Kennedy said to his fellow Americans that “Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty….Now the trumpet summons us again—not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need—not as a call to battle, though embattled we are—but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in year out, ‘rejoicing in hope, patient tribulation’—a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, diseases and war itself.” True his call for an emphasis on the missionary factor in the American temperament, Mazrui adds, Kennedy launched the Peace Corps “designed to permit (Americans) to exercise more fully their responsibilities in the great common cause of world development.” Africa received the second largest Peace Corps operations behind Latin America and far ahead of the other two major recipients: the Far and Near East and South Asia. It was therefore only fitting that when the news reached Africa that Kennedy had been assassinated in November of 1963, millions of people across continent, including me, wept on the streets for a man we had never met in person.

Despite Bush’s unprecedented domestic disapproval ratings said to be 73% in 2008, his popularity in Africa remained considerably high at around 80%. This is because the Bush Administration allocated a lot of money for humanitarian and development aid in Africa. Bush increased the United States budget for Africa from $1.4 billion when he entered office in 2001 to $5.6 billion in 2006. With his Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a $15 billion AIDS treatment and prevention program launched in 2003, he increased American aid to millions in need. Alongside his support of programs serving the ill, he was also very generous in terms of debt relief to many African nations. Even on the very controversial issue of Darfur in the Sudan, Bush organized a massive humanitarian relief effort for victims and rallied for United Nations peacekeeping troops to enter the region. By the time Bush left office, he had done more good for Africa than any other American President before him and definitely more so than the one after him. To this day, Bush is loved and revered across Africa for launching the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which recognizes that 650 million people can no longer be left out of the global economic integration process and for the United States to engage African countries South of the Sahara on the same basis as it does the rest of the world: i.e. as economic allies and trading partners.

While these facts are now well known to many people, what is not well known is the School of International Service/American University (SIS/AU) connection to Bush’s phenomenal success in Africa. The answer is that Africa benefited from the advocacy of two SIS/AU alumni, Walter H. Kansteiner III and Rosa Whitaker, while serving in the Bush Administration. It is not farfetched to suggest that these alumni’s reverence for Africa was greatly shaped by the training and philosophy, professors, administrators and students they encountered at SIS/AU. Before dealing with these aspects, it behooves me to begin with brief backgrounds of these alumni.

SIS/AU Alumni Walter H. Kansteiner III and Rosa Whitaker

Walter H. Kansteiner III received his Master’s of International Economics from SIS in 1981. He served as the United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs from June of 2001 to November of 2003. Before that, Kansteiner was a founding Principal of The Scowcroft Group and also served as Director of Economic Studies at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in the 1980s. He served at the State Department’s policy planning staff as Africa director from May of 1989 to June of 1991, when he was transferred to the National Security Council as director for African affairs. Kansteiner was appointed as the National Security Council Deputy Press Secretary in April of 1992.

Rosa Whitaker received her Bachelor of Arts in International Studies from SIS and Master of Public Administration from the School of Public Affairs (SPA) in 1982. She served as the first United States Assistant Trade Representative for Africa in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. In this position, Whitaker developed and implemented the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and other bilateral and multilateral trade policy initiatives for Africa. Before that, Whitaker was appointed the Executive Director of the Office of International Business for the city of Washington, DC at the age of 28, making her one of the youngest people to head an international economic agency for a major municipal government.

SIS Training and Philosophy

While studying at SIS, Kansteiner and Whitaker were exposed to curricula, faculty members and administrators that emphasized the philosophy of service: i.e. to engage in activities where we can most effectively apply our professional knowledge, interests, unique skills, and life experiences for the enrichment of our fellow humans. A popular witticism in SIS during the late 1970s and 1980s was that “If you want to learn how to serve your fellow humans and the world, come to SIS; if you want to learn how to get into other nations’ affairs/business, go to Georgetown University’s School of International Affairs.”

SIS Professors and Administrators

The professors under whom Kansteiner and Whitaker studied and the administrators that served them emphasized not only the philosophy of service, but also respect for and fair treatment of non-Westerners and their thoughts. These eminent scholars helped to render obsolete the pervasive and pernicious myth of Africans and other non-Westerners as inactive agents of history. The following are the professors and administrators that stood out in my mind as a student at SIS.

Professor Abdul Aziz Said, before becoming the father of the International Peace and Conflict Resolution discipline, wrote books and articles and taught courses in which he demonstrated his multidisciplinary expertise and respect for all cultures. The topics covered in his writings and courses included those in African studies, American foreign policy, basic human needs and international development, ethnic studies, human rights and ethics, humanitarianism, Islamic studies and peace, Jewish studies, Middle Eastern studies, spirituality and religion, and International Relations Theories. For example, Said’s book titled The African Phenomenon (1968), in which he challenges both the liberal and conservative perspectives and offers a corrective of the true nature of African societies, was the first work to employ African-centered concepts almost a decade before African-centered scholars such as Molefi Kete Asante birthed the Afrocentric paradigm. Not only was Said the first to launch a Jewish student fraternity, Phi Epsilon Pi National Jewish Fraternity, because Jewish students were being blackballed by fraternities, his graduate and teaching assistants were Jewish.

Professor Darrell D. Randall, who we dubbed as the “Godfather of SIS,” taught the courses titled Contemporary Africa, Africa’s International Relations I & II, World Human Needs and International Development, World Human Needs and International Planning, World Human Needs and International Administration, World Human Needs and New Approaches to Development Assistance, and International Relations and Development of Africa. He was among the pioneers of the field of African Studies in the United States in the early 1960s. He founded the American University Washington International Semester Program and directed its World Human Needs Institute. Before coming to SIS, Randall had spent almost two decades in South Africa as a missionary and in 1947 co-founded the Wilgespruit Fellowship Center near Johannesburg, where he organized interracial conferences and was one of the first to nonviolently challenge apartheid through anti-apartheid gatherings. He later taught at the Jan Hofmeyr School of Social Work at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg where he trained the first group of Southern African leaders such as Eduardo Mondlane of Mozambique, Walter Sisulu of South Africa, etc. Through his work, Randall had dialogues with Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Martin Luther King, Jr. As a missionary and pacifist, Randall traveled to North Africa and spent many hours in discussions with Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi and Malcolm X. Because of his writings, public lectures and extensive experience on Africa, before President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy traveled to the continent, each of them consulted Randall. When a United States satellite image of a large expanse of oasis in the middle of the Sahara desert was detected, sparking suspicions among American officials that the Soviets might have been engaged in covert activities, Randall was the one the Department of State, for which he had served as an expert consultant for many years, sent to investigate.

Professor Mildred Randall, the wife of Professor Darrell D. Randall, was affiliated with AU’s Lucy Webb Hayes School of Nursing before it was abolished in 1988 and taught a very popular course for SIS titled World Human Needs and World Food Resources and Politics. Focusing mostly on African and other developing nations, she taught us about many of the Western myths and also problems associated with the dietary practices in the developing world. Her writings on and lectures in developing countries had become so widely known and respected that when Netlé and other children’s food manufacturers were engaged in dubious practices in developing countries, it was Mildred Randall that was sent by the United States Congress to investigate the practices and provide testimony to lawmakers.

Professor Linda Lubrano taught the foundation SIS course titled Concepts of International Relations among others. In addition to the Eurocentric concepts such as “power,” “realism,” “liberalism,” “Marxism,” “socialism,” “imperialism,” “colonialism,” etc. that dominated the field at the time, she also exposed us to non-Western concepts such as “dependencia,” “orientalism,” “Pan-Africanism,” etc.

Professors James Weaver, Coralie Bryant and Steven Arnold taught international development and economics courses from both Western and non-Western perspectives. They wrote and drew extensively from works written by scholars scrutinizing “neo-imperialism,” “neo-colonialism,” “dependency,” “multinational corporations,” “structural adjustment,” etc.

Professor Absolom L. Vilakazi taught the very popular standing-room-only SIS course titled African Civilization and other Africa-related courses in the Department of Anthropology. In the former, we explored African civilization South of the Sahara before the arrival of the Europeans (i.e. Munyakare before the Batuuree). A major lesson we learned from the course was that most of the works that were available on the topic lacked a proper appraisal of the real nature and thought of Africans, and were based on a concept that fragments African life derived from a Eurocentric division of labor theory which separates education from politics, religion, economics, and the social institutions of family, or group, or people. This fragmentation theory emanates from Eurocentric epistemology and a fundamental approach to existence which has its genesis in Greco-Roman and subsequently Judeo-Christian thought.

Professor Alan Taylor taught the courses titled Contemporary Middle East and International Relations of the Middle East I & II. While dealing with developments in the region at the time, he made sure that we learn about the history and the important roles played by Afro-Arabs in Middle Eastern countries and why the Middle East and North Africa are two regions that are often grouped together because they have many things in common. We also learned about the African roots of some of the royal families and leaders of the Middle East.

Professor Albert D. Mott’s two-semester course titled The Western Tradition always began with the class reading and analyzing Albert Camus’ 1951 book titled The Rebel. While Professor Mott discussed the metaphysical and historical development of rebellion and revolution in Western Europe, he also made sure we understand how Camus’ Algerian background shaped his thoughts. Another book Professor Mott made us read is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novella titled Le Petit Prince/The Little Prince, a philosophical story that encompasses social criticism and a reflection on the peculiarity of the adult world. Even though the work was written during a period when Saint-Exupéry fled to North America subsequent to the Fall of France during the Second World War, Professor Mott emphasized the point that the book’s narrator, the pilot, talks of being stranded in the desert beside his crashed aircraft, a reflection of Saint-Exupéry’s own ordeal in the Sahara which he described in detail in his 1939 memoir titled Wind, Sand and Stars/Terre des hommes.

Dean William Olson was a master teacher who had a genuine love for people from all backgrounds, making sure that SIS remains a significantly multicultural school. With his ever-warm smile, Dean Olson’s section of the course titled Theories of International Relations was the most craved by students. He made students, members of the faculty and staff, alumni, friends of SIS and visitors feel very important. His love for Africa was evident in the Africa-related events he supported and funded. For example, in 1981, Dean Olson pushed for and was able to get AU to award an honorary doctorate to Canaan Banana, the first genuinely democratically elected President of Zimbabwe. Banana had studied jointly at SIS and Wesley Theological Seminary.

Associate Dean F. Jackson Piotrow, who we nicknamed “The Gentleman’s Gentleman,” was one of the most chivalrous, courteous, and honorable men one can ever meet. A master teacher and a strong advocate for an extensively diversified student, faculty and staff population in SIS, Piotrow encouraged and funded student activities that represented both Western and non-Western cultures. He also urged white students to take courses with non-white professors in SIS and across the campus to broaden their knowledge and worldviews.

SIS Students

During Kansteiner and Whitaker’s time at SIS, the student body was much more diversified in terms of race, gender, class, and geographical region. In fact, there was a story of five homeless students who graduated on time by skillfully using the gym, the 24-hour study room in the library, and other campus facilities while working part-time to make ends meet. More important was the spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood and activism that prevailed among the students in the school. For instance, I vividly recall when American Embassy employees were held hostage in Tehran, Iran by a group of students (from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981) and the United States Immigration Services sent a paddy wagon to arrest Iranian students and take them into custody. As soon as word got around that the wagon was on the way, hundreds of SIS students barricaded the entrances to the university to prevent the wagons from entering the campus, arguing that the Iranian students at AU had nothing to do with developments in their homeland.

About the Author

Abdul Karim Bangura is a researcher-in-residence of Abrahamic Connections and Islamic Peace Studies at the Center for Global Peace in the School of International Service at American University, the director of The African Institution, all in Washington DC; external reader of Research Methodology at the Plekhanov Russian University in Moscow; External Reader of Research Methodology at the Plekhanov Russian University, Moscow; Inaugural Peace Professor for the International Summer School in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Peshawar in Pakistan; and the international director and adviser of the Centro Cultural Guanin in Santo Domingo Este, Dominican Republic. He holds five PhDs in Political Science, Development Economics, Linguistics, Computer Science, and Mathematics. He is the author of 86 books and more than 600 scholarly articles.

The winner of more than 50 prestigious scholarly and community service awards, among Bangura’s most recent awards are the Cecil B. Curry Book Award for his African Mathematics: From Bones to Computers, which has also been selected by the African American Success Foundation’s Book Committee as one of the 21 most significant books ever written by African Americans in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM); the Diopian Institute for Scholarly Advancement’s Miriam Ma’at Ka Re Award for his article titled “Domesticating Mathematics in the African Mother Tongue” published in the Journal of Pan-African Studies; the Special United States Congressional Award for “outstanding and invaluable service to the international community;” the International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation’s Award for his scholarly work on ethnic and religious conflict resolution and peacebuilding, and promotion of peace and conflict resolution in conflict areas; and the Moscow Government Department of Multicultural Policy and Integrational Cooperation Award for the scientific and practical nature of his work on peaceful interethnic and interreligious relations. Bangura is fluent in about a dozen African and six European languages, and studying to increase his proficiency in Arabic, Hebrew, and Hieroglyphics. He is also a member of many scholarly organizations, has served as President and then United Nations Ambassador of the Association of Third World Studies, and is a Special Envoy of the African Union Peace and Security Council.

For more on Bangura, please click the following URL:
http://theafricaninstitut.wix.com/abdulkarimbangura

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