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The Making of an American Tragedy in Africa

· Africa

Praise be to the U.S.! The innocence of the African president of the African Development Bank has been pronounced by a representative of the white West at the behest of America the bully.

Akinwumi Adesina was accused by whistleblowers of handing contracts to acquaintances and appointing relatives to powerful positions. An ensuing internal probe by the bank’s ethics committee, headed by Takuji Yano, the institution’s Japan Executive Director, concluded in a 15-page report that the 16-count allegations against Mr. Adesina were spurious, unfounded, and without merit. But that had no value for the Trump Administration.

Racial frames and cultural racism

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Munchin categorically rejected the bank’s internal investigation, expressing "deep reservations about the integrity of the committee's process". There were no second thoughts about demanding this external investigation. Not even a letter from the former and first ever U.S. Representative to African Development Bank, Ambassador Harold E. Doley, Jr., who served as U.S. Executive Director of the African Development Bank from 1983-85 under the Reagan administration, made an impact.

In his open letter to Munchin, Doley expressed unwavering support of Adesina’s reelection as bank president. He emphasized that Adesina was cleared of wrongdoing in conformity with the governance rules and procedures of the Board’s Ethics Committee and attests to Adesina’s “impeccable character” and innovative and groundbreaking programs. But nothing was good enough for the U.S. Treasury Secretary.

Munchin strongly urged the bank’s board of governors, a majority of whom are African and includes a Chinese representative, to not accept the conclusions of its own internal probe, which exonerated Adesina of any wrongdoing. Instead, the U.S demanded the bank carry out an “in-depth investigation of the allegations … using the services of an independent outside investigator of high professional standing" (emphasis added).

This must be called what it is: a clear expression of a white supremacist racial frame that views blacks as inferior to whites in the making and keeping of institutions. It also conveys cultural racism against Africans, based on the belief that Africans, and Nigerians in particular, are inherently corrupt and have no proper ethics.

The making of an American tragedy in Africa

The imposed external and assertedly “independent” and trustworthy investigation led by Mary Robinson, Ireland’s former president, reached the same conclusions about Adesina’s innocence as the bank’s own internal probe. The 33-page report concludes that “the Panel is satisfied that the Ethics Committee considered the complaints received by it on 19 January 2020 comprehensively and responsibly and followed correct procedures” (emphasis added).

The U.S. has welcomed the clearing of AfDB president, now reassured by its externally controlled probe that the results of the bank's Ethics Committee internal probe were consistent with Adesina's innocence. Since the “verdict” was pronounced by an external Western-led panel, the U.S. is safe to support the AfDB.

The AfDB may have what Ken Giami and Kingsley Okeke referred to in an African Leadership Magazine article “a man at the helms of its leading development finance institution that is untainted, competent and committed to the Africa project”. But this is no new dawn for the bank of for Africa in general.

The U.S.-mandated external investigation evokes the pull between attraction and repulsion, amazement and distaste, identification and disgust that weaves through Theodore Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy. This second probe has merely served to set the stage for accepting the Trump administration’s indulgence in hostility to intellect while ignoring the costs of a president’s desire for power, a desire borne of a mixture of illusion and despair. Accompanied by an ingrained racism, the assault on the African Development Bank has made visible a looming U.S. foreign policy tragedy.

It’s time the American foreign policy establishment reckoned with the present administration’s growing white fragility. It’s time to root out the systemic racism embedded in America’s foreign policy culture. And it’s time African institutions stop enabling foreign racist patterns. Both America and Africa must make a concerted effort to move their international relations practices and discussions forward with rules of engagement that can interrupt racism.

Astrid Ruiz Thierry, Principal, Upboost LLC

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