On October 2, Professor of African-American studies and political science at Syracuse University Horace Campbell delivered a lecture to Vassar students entitled “The 2014 United State-African Summit: Is this a response to China?” For over four decades Campbell has been actively involved in various Pan-Africanist liberation struggles and different global movements for peace and justice. Campbell born in Montego Bay, Jamaica, has taught in Tanzania, Canada and the United States.
Aside from working as a lecturer, Campbell has also written extensively on African, American and Caribbean politics and social movements. Among his major publications are “Global NATO and the Catastrophic failure in Libya: Lessons for Africa in the Forging of African Unity” and “Barack Obama and Twenty-first Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA.”
Campbell’s lecture analyzed the strategic calculations behind the recent United States-Africa Leaders Summit organized by the Obama administration, and the extent to which it was designed to counter the rapidly growing Chinese influence in Africa.
China has been the number one trade partner with African nations since 2009; total trade between them reached $210 billion in 2013. Since this trend began, Campbell asserts that the United States has become shown a keen interest in reengaging with African countries.
A Senate Investigation Committee established by Senator Chris Coons of Delaware was created to brainstorm recommendations for strengthening trade relations with Africa. Other countries like France, Great Britain, Japan, India, Brazil and South Korea have begun negotiating with the various nations of Africa over the years to establish or deepen trade relationships. Campbell noted African countries’ rapidly growing economy, as well as their growing cultural influence, most notably in Nigerian cinema and art which illustrates the dynamism in the continent of Africa today.
Campbell believed that it is evident the United States is very much concerned that the emergence of China as a force in Africa has and will continue to complicate the tensions between the Europe Union and the U.S. over “who controls Africa.” Campbell discussed the strength of Europe’s relationship with Africa due to the imposition of European languages, religions, education and culture in African nations. He asserted that the history of Western imperialism in the continent gives Europe an advantage when dealing with trade relations, as opposed to China.
He asserted that since 1949 the transformation of the Chinese economy has rapidly sped up but left them focused inward for many years, thus harming their relative cultural exchange with African nations. The 1949 revolution brought up socialism and the development of productive forces. The Chinese attempted to invest in heavy industry in order to build up their society so that they can diversify their economy. This transformation was extremely successful, as it brought 600 million people out of impoverishment, but that same success created a major environmental problem. China now faces extreme pollution as a result of the development of heavy industries. Thus, Campbell concluded that China would be a problematic partner for economically developing African nations.
Campbell also made a point to investigate and challenge the goals of the recent summit, as well as the invisible issues that were not spoken about at the conference.
Campbell mentioned modern day examples such as the spread of Ebola in Western Africa and how the United States neglected to mention or attempt to tackle the deadly issue during the summit. He also discussed the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and the persistent struggle of the African American that must be addressed. Furthermore, he urged the U.S. government, as well as the audience of students, to acknowledge these issues and begin to deal with them before attempting to exploit African resources yet again.
He then tackled the issue of whether there are ways for the U.S. intellectual infrastructure to change in order to reorient U.S. policies toward African countries. Campbell made a powerful statement about the history of U.S.-African relations. He said, “The U.S. cannot engage with Africa without discussing origins of slavery since the history and foundation of U.S. and African relations is based on a system of slavery and dehumanization.” He asserted that in order to begin discussing an engagement in the continent of Africa, the United States government would first have to acknowledge the African descendants in the country and attempt to dismantle centuries of institutionalized racism.
Campbell advocated for “Unbuntu,” a concept that became popular after the struggles for liberation in South Africa. Unbuntu translates to ideas of human kindness and humanity toward others. Campbell’s final words of advice for students were to embrace “forgiveness, willingness to share, cooperation and love.” Campbell urged the United States to embrace the world conquest against racism and for everyone to see themselves as a greater part of humanity. He also concluded that he hoped African countries would be a driving force behind negotiations regarding their futures.