Obama Not Welcome in Africa After Activists Urge Foundation to Withdraw Invite

In a bold move, activists in South Africa have urged the Nelson Mandela Foundation to revoke their invitation to have Barack Obama as a guest at the NGO’s annual event on the 17th July.

Former US President, Barack Obama, is set to guest lecture in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s 16th annual lecture. This year also marks the centennial of the birth of anti-apartheid hero, Nelson Mandela. However, what some might view as inspirational – Barack Obama was the first African-American President of the United States – others have criticised as hypocritical of the foundation’s core values.

In an open letter from CAGE Africa, the Cape Town branch of a UK-based advocacy group committed to battling against injustice and oppression, activists denounced the great expansion of America’s military operations in Africa, a continent which CAGE describes as “rarely on the news”. The NGO further hit out at the Nelson Mandela Foundation for condoning behaviour “reminiscent of our apartheid abusers … despite ongoing, brazen and well-documented human rights violations around the world”.

Written “on behalf of the thousands affected by the abuses of the United States ubiquitous and unending ‘War on Terror’,” CAGE further briefly outlined several of Obama’s policies which have affected not only those in Africa but also across the Middle East.

Continuous war in Africa

In their letter, CAGE noted that during Obama’s tenure there was:

  • a 200% increase in military missions;
  • support for dictators;
  • a secret campaign in Somalia with CIA surveillance; and
  • a NATO regime change operation in Libya which CAGE describes descended the nation into “chaos”.

In his novel, Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa (2015)(which CAGE references in their open letter), American investigative journalist, Nick Turse, recounted his experience with walking through refugee camps of South Sudan with Obama as “dismal”; illustrating the toll “incalculable” with “no end in sight”.

Drone attacks and war crimes

Referencing the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, CAGE also argued that Obama conducted 10 times more drone strikes than George W. Bush, his predecessor and, according to a 2011 report by the Bureau, revealed that drone strikes ordered by Obama had killed 56 children. These deaths were purported to have resulted from drone strikes in Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and Iraq.

According to Air Wars, an organisation which monitors and assesses civilian harm from airpower-dominated international military actions, US-led forces are responsible for the deaths of more than 6,000 civilians.

CAGE also discussed the change of the ‘rules of engagement’ for drone strikes, detailing how the definition of ‘terrorist’ had been altered to mean ‘any military-aged male in a combat zone’. CAGE detailed how this discriminated against individuals who were having to walk long distances across combat zones for food and water.

Sweeping sexual assault under the carpet

In 2017, International Criminal Court prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, announced that she was ordering an investigation into the war crimes committed by the US military from 2002 to present. These war crimes include unlawful detention, extrajudicial killings, torture, and the condoning of child rape.

Citing a New York Times report, CAGE revealed that US soldiers had raped young boys in front of their mothers, among other women and men at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The NGO also alleged that the perpetrators were “dealt with internally with no resolution offered to the victims or the public”. When further photos emerged depicting sexual assaults with foreign objects, CAGE reveals that Obama blocked them from being released, so as not to “inflame anti-American public opinion”.

The foundation’s response

In response to CAGE Africa’s open letter, the Nelson Mandela Foundation stated that they would take their concerns seriously, however, no indication was given as to whether they would reconsider their invitation to the former US President.

Speaking to Al Jazeera on behalf of the foundation, Lunga Nene said that the initial decision to have Barack Obama speak at the annual lecture was made to coincide with this year’s focus on legacy; stating that, before his death, Mandela had held “great respect for President Obama”.

“Both leaders were challenged by difficult circumstances during their time in office, and both reflected on mistakes and regrets after leaving office. We have asked President Obama to address these issues,” Lunga Nene said.

What now?

While Barack Obama’s appearance at the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s annual event seems certain, CAGE Africa remains firm in their decision to campaign against his presence in South Africa.

Phoebe Egoroff

Founder and of Jurist International, a website focusing on the latest developments in international human rights and criminal law.

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