William M. Gumede at PostGlobal

William M. Gumede

South Africa

William M. Gumede is a former deputy editor of The Sowetan, Johannesburg. He is the author of the bestselling Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC. His new book, The Democracy Gap: Africaʼs Wasted Years, will be released in the U.S. in May, 2009. Close.

William M. Gumede

South Africa

William M. Gumede is a former deputy editor of The Sowetan, Johannesburg. more »

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U.S. Mistakes Make Dictators Happy

Competing nations are exploiting increasing anti-American sentiment in Africa to muscle out U.S. companies for lucrative business deals, especially in energy and minerals. Unless U.S. policies change, it appears that negative sentiment in Africa will result in more loss of business and political clout.

For example, rising powers China and India are raking in new business in Africa, because the U.S. administration is so unpopular. Even Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on his trip to Africa last year found receptive ears for his promise to be an alternative business partner to African nations. U.S. policies, no matter how benign, are viewed with suspicion by African countries. Perhaps only a change of power at the White House will change rising negative sentiments against the U.S. administration abroad.

U.S. unilateralism under the Republicans has alienated friends and foes alike abroad. Friends in Africa feel abandoned by the U.S. policy of riding rough-shod over them. This is why the U.S. presidential elections will be watched with unprecedented interest. Some African dictators are very happy with the U.S. administration's foreign policy. Many use the U.S. war on terror to label perfectly legitimate local democratic opposition as terrorism. Others like Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe whip up anti-U.S. sentiment whenever they face political trouble. It does appear that in some developing countries emphasizing one’s opposition to the U.S. can help garner votes. Like other tyrants, Mugabe loves to use the threat of U.S. regime change to strengthen his power and weaken the opposition by saying they are U.S. puppets.

Extremists groups in Africa and the developing world is also very happy. The actions of the U.S. administration give them a lot of recruitment material. How the U.S. handles the fallout over the Paul Wolfowitz favoritism scandal at the World Bank will be critical. For many, the U.S. administration’s unyielding support for Wolfowitz has become symbolic of the problems many have with it. Rather than unilaterally appointing a new president for the World Bank, it will do the U.S. administration good if it consults widely.

Suspicion of U.S. intentions and deals was also clear at the collapse of the WTO global trade talks last year. It does appear very unlikely that the U.S. is going to make headway with outstanding global problems such as climate change -- mistrust abroad against the current administration is just too high.

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