Obama's Africa Policy Draws Concern

WI Staff | 12/29/2008, 12:27 p.m.

(GIN) €" President-elect Barack Obama€s choice for U.S. Treasury Secretary could have far reaching consequences for Africa. [Obama recently named Timothy Geithner, currently president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, as his new Treasury Secretary.] Little opposition has been expressed toward Geithner, but two other members of Obama€s economic team €" Paul Volcker and Lawrence Summers - are drawing critical comments from some Africa watchers.

€One of Barack Obama's leading advisors has done more damage to Africa, its economies and its people than anyone I can think of in world history, including even Cecil John Rhodes,€ said Patrick Bond, director of the Centre for Civil Society in Durban, South Africa, referring to Volcker, who Obama recently named to become chairman of his Economic Recovery Advisory Board.

Volcker was chair of the Federal Reserve under presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. €Volcker increased the cost of African debt precipitously, delivering the newly independent states into at least 20 years of indentured labor,€ Bond said. €It was after €Volcker Shock€ that Brazil's debt exploded, doubling from $50 billion to $100 billion in six years,€ said journalist Naomi Klein, author of the book €Shock Doctrine.€

€Many African countries found themselves in similar straits: Nigeria's debt in the same short time period went from $9 billion to $29 billion,€ Klein said. Concerns also exist regarding Summers, who was the Treasury Secretary under president Bill Clinton.

Obama recently chose Summers to become head of the White House National Economic Council. Summers is still remembered for several controversial remarks he made during his years as president of Harvard University (including women having fewer €intrinsic abilities€ than men, and his strained relationship with author Cornel West, who was head of the African American Studies Department). Summers resigned from Harvard in 2006. He also gained infamy 15 years earlier when he wrote in a private World Bank:

€I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that. I've always thought that under populated countries in Africa are vastly under-polluted; their air quality is vastly inefficiently low. African's aesthetic concerns with air pollution are not likely to be as substantive as they are for wealthy northerners.€