Africa: 'Atlanta is a Model for Africa' Says Amb. Andrew Young

22 July 2002
interview

Washington, DC — Few U.S. political leaders in the United States are as identified with Africa as Andrew Young, former Mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, former Congressman from that city and U.S. representative to the United Nations during the Carter administration.

He has continued that involvement through a company he founded in 1996, Goodworks International, whose main objective said a company spokesperson "is to help U.S. businesses find new markets in Africa." Goodworks has corporate clients in Nigeria, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa. It has a satellite office in Abuja, Nigeria and is planning to open others in Ivory Coast and South Africa. The company is also listed by the US department of justice as a lobbyist for the government of Nigeria.

Being a sometimes controversial voice for U.S. business investment in Africa may seem to be a long way from the Andrew Young who was an aide to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and who was deeply involved in the southern civil rights movement of the 1960s, but Andy Young - he is "Andy" to almost everyone - has found himself outside of the mainstream before. As a Congressman he pushed for sanctions against Rhodesia's white supremacist Ian Smith regime, and as UN ambassador met with representatives of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in defiance of White House policy.

In a wide-ranging interview with allAfrica's Charles Cobb Jr. Young swims against the tide once again, expressing admiration for Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe's land seizure and endorsement of South African president Thabo Mbeki's suspicions about anti-retroviral drugs. Excerpts:

You've been observing Africa for some time. Do you think the transition from Organization of African Unity to African Union is a significant one?

I think that as the Africans began to view the European Union and began to see that there seemed to be real power in sharing consistent values and economic philosophy in a region, they have been seeking to do the same. But it's different in that Africa was trying to shed itself of several decades of colonialism, military dictatorship and oppression. And I think they see the African Union as the beginning of a democratic, free enterprise or free market coalition that is more consistent with today's world and today's economics.

More consistent than what?

The hallmark of the OAU was a combination of African socialism and Cold War manipulation. It depended on foreign aid. It depended on outside influence and playing those forces against each other. I think the African Union is a move toward more independence and self-determination.

How much of the AU - and some people would say a lot - is Libyan President Muammar Al-Gaddafi's creation?

Well, I don't think this is Gaddafi's creation at all. It's really much more Thabo Mbeki, Nigeria's Obasanjo and Bouteflika of Algeria. I think Gaddafi has attempted to take over an influential role in Africa and has played a very....I don't know Gaddafi so I really shouldn't make judgements, but when I see his hand in Sierra Leone and Liberia it is not a constructive hand. Or Chad.

Now I think that a part of Gaddafi's problem is the result of the American isolationism and I was an advocate for engaging Gaddafi back in the 1970s because I don't think isolation works. It hasn't worked with Castro. It hasn't worked with Saddam Hussein and it hasn't worked with Gaddafi. What I see is Obasanjo and...well first Mandela - beginning to engage Gaddafi to try to transform his influence from a negative, destructive influence, which it was in Sierra Leone and Liberia and Chad, trying to give him a positive role.

And do you think they are being successful?

I think they are successfully containing him and neutralizing him.

It seems appropriate here to ask you about the war on terrorism as it relates to Africa. In waging it, do you think there is the risk of returning to something like the Cold War, where the faults of nations were overlooked in the interest of lining then up on the U.S. side?

I think that we have not focused on the war on terrorism in Africa. Gaddafi is responsible in part for terrorism in Africa. He has not blown up American ships but he has funded groups in Liberia and Sierra Leone and Chad. To some extent he has funded the war in the Sudan.

When we talk about the war on terrorism we're talking about the war on white people and American interests. We don't consider it terrorism when thousands of Africans are slaughtered. Nobody has suffered the effects of the Islamists like Algeria and you've never heard a word mentioned about it. Algeria also has an approach to terrorism that could be successful with a little help. It had a complete amnesty. It tried to include everybody. If you have a certain level of economic growth and are including disenfranchised people in the economic opportunities of the country then you have a chance against terrorism.

I think that what we get in terrorism, even though it's led by people who are not poor, is ultimately a revolt of the underclass with upper class leadership. What I don't understand is why they're scared of women, but the terrorist factions are scared of their own women - they terrorize their own women. There is something very sick about the terrorist approach to life and not just their approach to power and to white people, but their approach to their own women. The terrorism in Algeria was focused in large measure on women who refused to veil themselves.

And there is Nepad, also bound to the question of African union or unity. It is not clear to me what the relationship of Nepad to the African Union is going to be, especially since Nepad is opening up offices and building a staff structure in South Africa, whereas the AU will presumably be in Addis. And Nepad also seems to be more focused toward attracting Western investment on African development terms...

Not Western investment, it's investment. For instance, one of the things that made the privatization of South Africa's telecom company work was that SBC (Southwestern Bell Communications) of Texas became a partner of Malaysian Telecom and it was the presence of the Asian-American coalition that made it possible to work in some ways. They put together the $1.3bn for the telephone system. They made it work. They made their money out of it. They trained, and upgraded the equipment. They expanded the service. I don't think they have any staff there now but they're still profiting from their investment. And they're still sort of the managing partner of the operation. So you get Western and Eastern technology, Western and Eastern sensitivities contributing to a new African opportunity.

With Nepad?

Well, That's the way it worked with SBC. In Atlanta when I was mayor and in the decade or so since I left office, we were able to bring over US$70bn in private investment into Atlanta. Eleven hundred companies came here to invest money and create jobs. That was twice as much money as went into the African continent during the 1980; it was even equivalent to what went into Latin America apart from Mexico during the eighties.

All we did was provide an efficient, honest regulatory framework for investment. We said we will give you honest and efficient service. You don't have to pay anybody under the table and you can put your money in and take it out anytime you want to. We insisted on high environmental standards. We insisted on affirmative action in the sense that everybody who came in had to use minority or Black subcontractors and employ minorities fully. We worked at integrating them into our economy and it has created the largest...I don't know where all of this money is coming from in the Black community but all of these houses that are being built, all of these Black-owned businesses that are emerging, all of them, it seems to me, came out of the experience of Blacks being involved in eleven hundred international companies that moved in here in the 1980s along with the four hundred and something of the "fortune 500" companies that were here.

Once these Black people got in and learned how things worked they rose to the top of those companies where they could. Where they couldn't, they branched off and formed their own companies. And we've had a thriving economy as a result of it.

You're suggesting that this is something of a model for Africa?

I'm saying that this is a model that Africa could consider. The fact, for instance, that our airport, which [former Atlanta Mayor] Maynard Jackson built and which Black architects and contractors constructed, and which 40 percent of the concessions are owned and operated by Black entrepreneurs, generates more wealth in Atlanta, for Atlantans, than say Nigeria's oil develops for Nigerians.

How much discussion do you have with African leaders on this point? And particularly since I know you - meaning the institutional 'you', as Goodworks International - have a considerable relationship with Nigeria?

Well, we talk all the time about it. But frankly, I don't think anybody listens to us.

"Us" being who?

Goodworks or me.

I'm surprised that you say that.

When I was a freshman at Howard University, the smartest guy in the school was a Nigerian. And he used to say to me very condescendingly: 'You're a bright boy. When are you going to get civilized?'

And there is a Nigerian success tradition that is older than the African-American tradition. It is not as successful as ours but it is older. It's like Jamaicans. They have a hard time listening to us as African-Americans. They were ahead of us in their decolonization and West Indian thinkers have always been.... Well it's like Stokely [Carmichael] didn't think he had anything to learn from John Lewis. Our view is seen as somewhat neo-colonial.

The kind of view you're putting out?

Yes. Insofar as Africans are ideologues, they tend to be suspicious. Now what we have said is that the difference between neo-colonialism and what we [in Atlanta] did was that neo-colonialism was economic domination by a single economy alongside political independence. But we had eleven hundred different companies coming in here, we had French, German, English, Canadian, Finnish, Swedish, Norweigian, Swiss, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Mexican, Brazilian; we really opened the door to everybody. So what we created was free market competition. We never were subject to the domination of any one economy.

That to me is the importance of American involvement in Africa. It brings competition to the traditional colonial masters. And whenever I went to Africa as mayor of Atlanta I always tried to bring some of the Japanese, Taiwanese, Korean firms with me. I think they have a contribution to make that forces the former colonial masters to be competitive.

I'm still a little surprised at what you say, because a significant chunk of this generation of African leadership - and here I'm thinking of South Africa's Mbeki, Uganda's Museveni, Obasanjo and Wade, even, and others - are viewed here as serious men, serious, pragmatic leaders and open to ideas, men who listen.

Well they are. But I think we have an active competitive experience of integrating our [U.S.] society over the last 50 years. And we've learned a lot about how to work with stronger economic forces, and to confront the subtleties of racism. But there is a feeling that that's not relevant to them.

Why do you think that feeling exists? Africa is a continent that has suffered colonialism and in the South, especially, suffered institutional racism as well.

A couple of reasons. One is, I think that there were two groups of African_Americans. There was a group of African-Americans that sought to serve the cause of freedom and the liberation of Africa, and gave constantly in every respect. My parents always had African students in our home in the 1940s. They felt that they had been educated by American missionaries - New England missionaries - and that part of our responsibility was to educate others. So, our home was almost a boarding house for African students at no charge. I started in 1974 with Arthur Ashe bringing students to the U.S. We'd bring them in and keep them in Atlanta for a while at my house and we'd find places for them at Michigan state or Texas Southern and other colleges. We had a kind of Underground Railroad on education.

There was also a group of African-Americans who went to Africa trying to get rich quick, and who really poisoned the waters and alienated a lot of Africans. The result is that people still depend on us when they need something, but they don't depend on us for economic or political advice.

Even with the growth of what might be called a "Black" political establishment here in the United States?

Well, unfortunately, the present Black political establishment from Clinton on has not had the same involvement with Africa that you and I had. We felt a lot closer to Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. And were back and forth with our African liberation brothers all the time. Almost nobody Black in the Clinton Administration had any previous Africa experience. As good as Colin Powell is, and Condoleezza Rice, they've had very little African political experience. Now Jendayi Frazer and Cindy Curville have, and I think they are very good in the National Security Council. They are very tough-minded intellectuals because they're operating in that Republican Party environment. But they know Africa better, and have more African experience than their counterparts in the Clinton Administration.

And this leads into your experience, which stretches across three administrations: Presidents Carter, Bush and Clinton...

Well actually it started with President Nixon. I first went to Africa with George Schultz [Then Treasury Secretary. He was Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan] to a World Bank meeting in Kenya. I was in Congress and a member of the Banking Committee. In those days even though I was traveling with a Republican Secretary of the Treasury, the agenda for Africa had been established by [Congressman] Charlie Diggs (D-MI) and the Congressional Black Caucus. And the Black caucus has not had a Charlie Diggs since Bill Gray (D-PA) left.

Donald Payne of New Jersey?

Yeah. And I guess you'd have to say that the African Growth and Opportunity Act is comparable to anything we did. But I quarrel with him because I happen to like Mugabe.

I am genuinely surprised to hear you say that. Tell we why. Do you mean it in a historical sense - as an important African liberation leader?

No. I mean right now. Mugabe is the only one who is making any effort to deal with poverty in Africa. Mugabe has politicized poverty. The land issue for Mugabe is how to enfranchise the poor. My friends in Zimbabwe who are the young intellectuals and business people did not fight in the war and they really end up being 'trickle down' economists, like the economists you have in the rest of Africa. I worry more about the gap between rich and poor in Africa than I do in America because I think the gap between rich and poor is what Gaddafi exploited in Sierra Leone and Liberia. And to some extent, Rwanda and Burundi.

You don't see Mugabe as having made a fairly cynical move? He had years to take on this land issue and didn't until he came under the pressure of Tsvangirai as leader of trade unions...

No, he came under pressure from the war veterans.

But the war veterans emerge simultaneously with Mugabe's loss of the referendum that would have increased his executive power. It seemed a cynical political move looking at it from Washington.

I was one of those who talked Mugabe out of dealing with the land question originally, saying to him that I believed that you couldn't deal with governance and land reform simultaneously.

There was the experience of Kenya where the British, in dealing with governance, also appointed - actually it was Law Engineering of Atlanta that bought a British firm that was involved in the land use plan and land distribution in Kenya - and it was paid for by the British.

There was an agreement by the British to help Mugabe develop a land use plan and land reform program in 1980 but that it should not start until 1990. There were specific constitutional concessions made at Lancaster House. One of them was putting off the land reform issue for 10 years.

But some money was made available.

Not a cent! The Carter Administration pledged 70 million dollars a year for ten years. Not one penny ever got there. There was certainly no participation in a land use plan such as there had been in Kenya. By the time 1990 came around there was nobody in Britain or America who was interested.

We were rightly, I think, focused on the liberation of South Africa. Mugabe was also being told by Nyerere and others: 'You can't raise these issues because we must deal with our brothers in South Africa.' So to blame Mugabe for raising the question 20 years late and not doing anything all along, I think is unfair.

It is true that he didn't push it but he was involved in the liberation of South Africa. He was involved in Namibia. He was involved even more in trying to beat back Renamo in Mozambique. Those were the Selous Scouts from Rhodesia that fought with Ian Smith that went to South Africa who didn't want them and sent them over to Mozambique where Renamo was continuing to try to overthrow the Mozambican government. They were also trying to undermine the Zimbabwe government.

Still, if there is any place in Africa where capitalism and democracy can work easily, it's Zimbabwe. But instead of trying to make it work, England mainly ended up demonizing Mugabe and the U.S. went along. And Mugabe is easy to demonize. But when I read about John Adams and Thomas Jefferson feeling threatened by the British and French and promoting an Aliens and Sedition Act and actually putting the press in jail, I say or ask, 'Was Mugabe under more pressure from the British and the South Africans than Jefferson and Adams were?' And because of the geographic proximity of South Africa, as opposed to the French and British presence in the U.S. I'd have to say a young nation in Zimbabwe was under more serious and severe pressure than Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were. In fact. King George referred to Jefferson and Adams and George Washington as hoodlums and hooligans who were only fit for hanging.

I saw so much of that British arrogance being adopted by the United States in relationship to Mugabe. And even Mbeki. When Mbeki raised a legitimate question about Aids and whether there was a political solution or whether this was a medical issue, they jumped all over him and literally forced him to try to give these drugs which proved to be very toxic to Americans who are having 2 or 3 thousand calories a day...whether to give those same toxic drugs to Africans who get 2 or 3 thousand calories a week is a legitimate medical question. Mbeki said those kinds of questions ought to be left to physicians and he shouldn't make a political decisions about them. But they literally forced him to come to the political position where the government is giving drugs to people without fully knowing the impact of them.

Well, they do know that anti-retrovirals for pregnant women do save the lives of children.

Well they know that they don't die of Aids. But they don't feed them. Keeping children alive without mothers is a major political problem when you're talking about millions of children.

Yes, but their lives shouldn't be lost because of that political problem. You certainly cannot be making that argument.

No. But I am making the argument for good, solid nutrition for those children. I've been working with a group of Aids orphans in South Africa and the first five years I worked with them they were not taking the medicines. We were sending them money and they were getting a good diet, going to school and being cared for. In the meantime, the little boy who was being used as the poster boy [12-year-old Nkosi Johnson] to harass Thabo Mbeki, and who was getting the drugs, died [June 1, 2001]. I'm not saying that there is any cure for Aids, but I am saying that a loving, nutritious environment for children, even if they are HIV-positive, might be better than anti-retroviral drugs.

In our remaining minutes I would be interested in your take on what the unexpected energy and attention the Bush Administration seems to be directing toward Africa. And could you compare your own experience inside the Carter Administration with this?

I think that some of the same things that drove Carter drive Bush. Carter was a political conservative but he understood racism and he understood majority rule. He developed a passion for Africa as a result of his sensitivity to the problems of the South and of racism. Carter got elected opposing quotas. All of the standard liberal jargon of the time, Carter was opposed to. He compensated for that and won over liberals by emphasizing his understanding of Africa.

Something of the same thing is true with George W. Bush. Our experience with Jack Kemp and Newt Gingrich was that they wanted to be conservatives without being racists. [Congressman] Bill Gray said, "All right, here's the perfect place to prove that you're not racist, support sanctions on South Africa." And they did. Africa investment, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) are, in some ways, an attempt to apply Republican Party development principles to the African continent. We resist privatization here but we push it in Africa.

It is interesting to me that someone like you, so closely associated with the Democratic Party, seems to be approving this effort to push Republican Party policies in Africa.

They are not Republican policies although Republicans feel that they are their policies. But I had enterprise zones in Atlanta before Jack Kemp brought them to Congress simply because I needed to get money into downtown Atlanta. And I created a tax break and all of the downtown housing that we have now, which is considerable, goes back to our eliminating real estate taxes on downtown development for 20 years. We created industrial parks where we didn't give people tax breaks but we laid out the infrastructure for them. We made free enterprise work for poor people in Atlanta.

There are areas, particularly in business development, especially in agriculture, where free enterprise is more relevant. Obasanjo didn't have any luck with agriculture in his first term. It bugged him so that when he got out of government he started a farm and he developed a very successful agribusiness operation. I went to see him on his farm and he had been up all night delivering pigs. I asked him, standing there in the pig sty: 'How come you're so much more successful as a farmer out of government than you were in government?' He said, "Look here, Andy. Nobody would stay up all night with the government's pig."

I'm struck that you haven't mentioned Clinton

Well I like Clinton. Clinton gave me an opportunity to serve Africa through the Southern Africa Development Fund. But only [Secretary of Commerce] Ron Brown in Clinton's first term had any real knowledge of Africa. With Ron Brown's death it took a while before [Transportation Secretary] Rodney Slater picked up the mantle and ran with it. He did a lot but we spent most of Clinton's term saving Clinton. It's interesting that they are just now realizing that there is stuff far worse than "Whitewater" in Bush and Cheney's past. But nobody has demanded a special prosecutor.

Clinton did wonderful things for the developing world but they were not for Africa. He bailed out Mexico. If there had been an African bailout comparable to the Mexican bailout,..well. And there could have been. The African debt question is really one that Americans have been willing to be reasonable about.

These banks loaned money to people who they knew were stealing. They consciously and willingly made bad loans because they had such a surplus of capital. And they made those loans to dictators. And they saw what they were doing with the money and now after those regimes have been gotten rid of, they want free governments to bear the burdens of these loans.

It's like the U.S.trying to make South Africa pay a fine for selling weapons to Israel. Mandela and them were in jail when that happened. And when [former South African Ambassador to the United States] Franklin Sonn talked to me about it,I said: "Look, you get you a Johnny Cochran and the [Congressional] Black Caucus and you make as big a political fuss about this as you can. Do it in Washington," I said. It was quietly settled when they started talking like that. It's almost like we're making poor Africans pay for our mistakes. And they've already paid back these loans. It's the interest that's killing them. But it's also killing the global economy.

If American wants to get out of recession and get its stock market pumped up again, and if the European Union wants to survive, and Asia wants its stagnation ended, the only answer is facilitating the development of Africa. Africa is the missing link of the global economy. And the global economy is not going to work until Africa is included as a full partner and participant. And that means wiping out the debt. That means developing a WTO kind of free market framework that allows people to invest freely and without protectionism so the goods and services of Africa can be sold on a world competitive market.

Africa can answer the world's economic needs right now if we only focus on African potential rather than African problems.

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