Colin Powell no knight in shining armor


The people of Africa need not compromise their hard earned freedom and ideals for the Colin Powell’s of this world. Such fawning and obsequiousness by our media and politicians smell bitterly of the not so distant “colonial-baas” mentality. The Colin Powell’s of the West are no better than parasites- under the pompous title of secretary- of-state lurks a try-hard white éin- black who has betrayed his values, dignity and roots.


An extract from Powell’s book ‘An American Journey’ reads, “We burned down the thatched huts, starting the blaze with Ronson and Zippo lighter. Why were we torching houses and destroying crops? Ho Chi Minh had said the people were like the sea in which his guerilla swaméWe tried to solve the problem by making the whole sea uninhabitable. In the hard logic of war what difference did it make if you shot your enemy or starve him to death?”


In March 1968, a massacre took place in which 347 old men, women, children and babies were slaughtered in the Vietnamese Village of My Lai by US soldiers. Charged with the investigation, Powell reported that everything was hunk-dory!


This is the representative of America that sells itself as a champion of democracy, yet it has consistently acted against the democratic will at home and abroad, whenever the ‘voice of the people’ says anything other than what Uncle Sam dictates. Powell is part of the wealthiest cabinet appointed George W Bush in US history, appointing more multi millionaires to the top rank of the administration. The average wealth is about US $ 10,5 million. Powell has assets worth at least US $ 18,5 million and could be worth twice as much.


America claims to be the champion of peace and security in the world, while it supports some of the heinous and intransigent enemies of peace in the world :Israel leaps to mind here. But whether it was Marcos of the Philippines or Reza Pahlavi of Iran or Bourguiba of Tunisia or Mobutu of Zaire or Pinochet of Chile or Somoza of Nicaragua, all these dictators relied directly or indirectly, at some point or other, upon US power to suppress their own people. Peace has often served as a mere smokescreen to conceal the wanton pursuit of pernicious goals which only reinforce the dominance of the US.


American corporations rant about the free market while they work to monopolize global trade under their tightly controlled auspices. And American politicians and executives claim to be protectors of the environment while Americans work hardest to sabotage environmental protections. The US consumes something like 35 per cent of the earth’s non-renewable resources. A predatory power, it has reached a point where it could sustain it might only by controlling other lives and other lands.


In a stunning upset, the US lost it seat on the top United Nations human rights body it helped to found in 1948. A representative for Human Rights Watch said that the United States had voted “on the wrong side of several human rights issues in the last few years.” Among them were the treaty to abolish land mines, opposition to the treaty creating an International Criminal Court and rejection of a resolution calling AIDS drugs to be made available to everyone.


It is in the arena of human rights that America has managed to camouflage its lack of genuine commitment. They have distorted the very meaning of human rights by giving prominence to civil and political rights, whilst relegating economic, social and cultural rights. Thus it contemptuously dismiss and vilify countries such as Cuba and Iran that have made great strides in securing economic or cultural rights for all its people despite suffering suffocating sanctions.


The treatment of the African American people, who constitute roughly 20 per cent of the population, bears testimony to the violation of human rights by the American government. They constitute the largest number of unemployed, the largest number of school drop-outs, the largest number of homeless, the largest number of illiterate, the largest number of drug addicts, the largest number of medically uninsured people, the largest number of poor.


In short, by any of the socio economic indices that matter, the black population of the US, by far the richest country in recorded history, is the poorest, the most disadvantaged, the longest enduring historically in terms of oppression, discrimination, and continued suppression. Two million American are held in jail, of who well over 45% are African Americans. In the light of this contemporary savagery against its own citizens, one should not be surprised that the poor Iraqis and Palestinians who undergo long distance starvation, absence of schools and hospitals, the devastation of agriculture and the civil infrastructure are put through so much.


Should Colin Powell buck the system, as did powerful and visible leaders such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, the system will destroy him. We must not expect Powell’s visit to deliver us from our difficulties, like some benign Godot about to appear in shining armor.


When President Thabo Mbeki visits the United States in a few weeks, we must understand the workings of US society and its foreign policy in terms of its profound, as opposed to its rhetorical, realities. And only then will we be able to address the US government selectively and critically, instead of as supplicants and humble petitioners. Most importantly, we should then be able to assist and alleviate the plight of those oppressed by the US to achieve equality and justice.

(Mr. Firoz Osman is Secretary of the Media Review Network, which is an advocacy group based in Pretoria, South Africa.)