Web Exclusive: Is a Luo Tribesman of the 1950s the Real Governor of the Obama White House?
After the debacle of George W. Bush’s two-term presidency followed by the election of Barack Obama, the forces of the conservative revolution ushered in by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher are becoming increasingly fragmented, disoriented and acrimonious. So outrageous is the racial stereotyping becoming in even core elements of the US Republican Party that David Frum, heretofore unheralded as a voice of moderation, is intervening dramatically in an effort to turn back the tide of conservative extremism.
Pointing directly at the recent actions and statements of conservative stalwarts, Frum writes, “here is racial animus, unconcealed and unapologetic, and it is seized by savvy editors and an ambitious politician as just the material to please a conservative audience.” Frum concludes, “That is an insult to every conservative.”
The ambitious politician to whom Frum refers is Newt Gingrich. A history professor whose Ph.D. thesis focused on the Belgian governance of Congo after the Second World War, Gingrich came to political prominence as Speaker of the US House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. Some have looked to this fixture of the conservative establishment as a possible candidate for the Republican nominee in the US presidential election of 2012.
Gingrich earned Frum’s ire because of his theory that the core idea allegedly animating Barack Obama’s presidency is “anticolonialism.” To support his theory, Gingrich cites an article, soon to become a book entitled The Roots of Obama’s Rage, by Dinesh D’Souza. A native-born son of India, D’Souza has become one of the most prominent voices in the well-funded industry of right-wing think tankery. As Gingrich sees it, D’Souza has come up with “the most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama.”
D’Souza sees the allegedly anticolonial views of President Obama’s economist father, Barack Senior, as the primary source of the current White House’s governing ideology. The now-deceased parent of the current US president is of Luo ancestry. The Luo are one of the Indigenous peoples of Kenya. “Incredibly,” D’Souza writes, “the US is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s.”
As do I in my new work, Earth into Property: Colonization, Decolonization, and Capitalism, D’Souza draws liberally from President Obama’s first book, Dreams From My Father. In this work of autobiography D’Souza finds evidence that Barack Obama Senior and Junior were both heavily influenced by the transformation in the 1960s of many Asian and African countries, including Kenya, from the status of formal colonies to nominally self-governing entities. This process of decolonization would result in a rough quadrupling of sovereign countries recognized at the United Nations from 51 in 1945 to 192 in 2010.
In an article in 2002 D’Souza lauds the imperial relationship of Western Europe to the rest of the world since 1492. “Colonialism,” the author argues, “was the transmission belt that brought to Asia, Africa and South America the blessings of Western Civilization.” The ethnocentric character of D’Souza’s Darwinistic worldview was earlier put on display when he wrote in The End of Racism, “the criminal and irresponsible black underclass represents a revival of barbarism in the midst of Western civilization”
In his new analysis of President Obama’s core ideology the author simply dismisses as old news the politics of over five centuries of empire building and its consequences. “Colonialism today,” D’Souza claims, “is a dead issue. No one cares about it except the man in the White House. He is the last colonial.”
The effect of this much-heralded anticolonial stance is that we now have a clear and explicit defense of colonial rule emanating from the heart of the Republican Party. This defense of the building and maintaining of empires flies in the face of all the mountains of information we have amassed about imperialism’s legacy of genocide throughout the Americas, the terrible inhumanity of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the European penchant for territorial expansion that would lead to the killing of tens of millions as the German quest for Lebensraum spilled into the steppes of Russia during the Second World War. Moreover, the anti-anticolonialism of Gingrich and D’Souza challenges some of the most sacrosanct myths of the United States as a polity born of the anticolonial hostility on the part of the US Founding Fathers towards the alleged tyranny of the British Empire.
Twenty-first century styles of colonialism include continuing wars for control of natural resources as well as the ongoing subjugation of oppressed peoples through instruments of credit and debt such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. First established at Bretton Woods in New Hampshire in 1944, the IMF and the World Bank have been accused of perpetuating old inequities rooted in earlier eras of formal imperial rule. Just as the old oppressions of colonialism continue through various agencies of neocolonialism, so too have the largely unfulfilled urge for decolonization continued to inspire the ideas and actions of the global majority that Franz Fanon once famously labeled the wretched on the earth.
The process of neocolonialism began in 1945 when US President Franklin Roosevelt travelled to Saudi Arabia to claim the biggest prize emanating from the US victory in the Second World War. Shortly before his death the US president went to the Middle East to assume informal control on behalf of his government of Saudi Arabia. The royal household of Ibn Saud was confirmed as the local caretakers for US interests of what was described at the time by a State Department official as “a stupendous source of strategic power,” as “one of the greatest material prizes in world history.”
As the operations of the CIA and the Pentagon became integral to the sphere of imperial wire pulling once overseen by the colonial agencies of Great Britain, France, Holland, Belgium and Portugal, tactics of “regime change” became a favorite device for the US executive branch’s remote-control empire. Any leader of the movement for decolonization that proposed to nationalize indigenous natural resources was removed, often by assassination, and replaced with obedient local dictators armed and funded to eliminate their local opponents. In this fashion, for instance, Mohammed Mossedeq was replaced with the Shah of Iran after 1953 and Jacabo Arbenz was replaced in Guatemala after 1954 with the genre of US-backed military puppet regime that would dominate most of Latin America for the most of the second half of the twentieth century. As Naomi Klein details in her blockbuster, Shock Doctrine, the Kissinger-directed overthrow of the elected government of Chile in 1973 was a small but highly significant episode in the process of attacking any regime that did not conform to a very radical formula for what she refers to as “disaster capitalism.”
In the introduction to Earth into Property I reflect on my own first encounters with neocolonialism in 1971, when I toured by motorcycle Africa’s Great Lakes region. The indigenous inhabitants of this territory include the Luo people on the paternal side of President Obama’s family tree. As part of my safari I circumnavigated the Rwenzori Mountains on the border of Uganda and Congo. On the eastern side of this range I encountered the army answering to the dictator Idi Amin. On the Congo side I had to deal with the armed thugs of General Desire Mobutu. Both Amin and Mobutu epitomized the kind of kleptocratic puppet commander put in charge of protecting the indigenous natural resources of their countries for the exploitation and enrichment of transnational companies mostly headquartered in Western Europe and North America. Both leaders were thrown aside when they outlived their usefulness to the neocolonial project.
This partial list of US interventions for commercial, military, cultural and political dominance form part of the body of memory embedded deeply in the understanding of the global majority of formerly colonized peoples who have never been allowed to achieve the promise of genuine decolonization. Precisely because he has lived and travelled in many polities where the phenomenon of neocolonialism is more or less taken for granted by the indigenous populations, President Obama is indeed aware of the contemporary allure of what D’Souza describes as anticolonialism. From where I sit, however, the problem with the current leader in charge of the US executive branch is not defined by his anticolonialism but rather by his failure not to intervene actively enough on behalf of the principles of genuine decolonization.
In Earth into Property I discuss President Obama’s ability to disguise his embrace of the continuing imperatives of neoimperialism through his expansion in Eurasia of the 9/11 wars. I contrast President Obama’s shifting moral relativism with what I refer to as the anti-imperial absolutism of Che Guevara. An iconic figure in the Latin American pursuit of radical anticolonialism, Che preceded me in the eastern Congo by six years when he and his small brigade of Cuban soldiers unsuccessfully fought white mercenaries from South Africa and Rhodesia in an effort to counter the ascent of the neocolonial puppet regime of General Mobutu.
David Frum resides in a part of the political spectrum very different from that of Che Guevara, who was executed extrajudicially in Bolivia in 1967 on the orders of the US executive branch. And yet in Frum’s outraged response to the positions of Dinesh D’Souza, Newt Gingrich and the editors of Forbes Magazine, the former White House insider seems closer to the martyred revolutionary than to those who would court conservative favour by arguing President Obama’s is “too black or too alien;” that he is motivated primarily by the wish for “anti-white racial revenge.” Frum asks, “When last was there such a brazen outburst of race-baiting in the service of partisan politics at the national level?” Even the White segregationist candidate for US president, George Wallace, “took more care to sound race neutral.”
Frum muses , “Nothing more offends conservatives than liberal accusations of racial animus.” And yet those who seek to inherit the conservative revolution of Ronald Reagan and the Bush family dynasty display the worst extremes of racial stereotyping. How interesting it is that one of the main literary instigators of the wave of Islamophobia presently sweeping the United States would wonder why the editors of Forbes as well as Newt Gingrich would think that such a brazen instance of race-baiting “will resonate with their conservative audience.”
Anthony J. Hall is a Professor of Globalization Studies at University of Lethbridge.
- David Frum, “Gingrich: Obama Wants Whitey’s Money,” Frum Forum, 13 September 2010
- Laura Seay, “Newt Gingrich’s Dissertation on Congo Sheds Light on his Jab that Obama is Anticolonial,” Christian Science Monitor, 16 September 2010
- Dinesh D’Souza, The Roots of Obama’s Rage (Washington D.C.: Regnery, 2011)
- Gingrich cited in Robert Costa, “Gingrich: Obama’s Kenyan Anti-Colonial Worldview,” National Review Online, 11 September 2010
- Dinesh D’Souza, “How Obama Thinks,” Forbes.com, 27 September 2010
- Anthony J. Hall, Earth into Property: Colonization, Decolonization, and Capitalism (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010); Barack Obama, Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004) originally published in 1995
- Dinesh D’Souza, “Two Cheers for Colonialism,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 10 May 2010
- Dinesh D’Souza, The End of Racism: Principles for a Multicultural Society (New York: Free Press, 19950, p. 527, cited in “Dinesh D’Souza,” SourceWatch)
- Dinesh D’Souza, “How Obama Thinks,” Forbes.com, 27 September 2010
- State Department official cited in Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival? America’s Quest for Global Dominance (New York: Henry Holt, 2003), p. 150; See also Irvine H. Anderson, Aramco, the United States, and Saudi Arabia: A Study of the Dynamics of Foreign Oil Policy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981)
- Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2007)
- Excerpt from Earth into Property published as “The Anti-Imperial Absolutism of Che Guevara versus the Shifting Moral Relativism of President Barack Obama,” ourowncbc.info, 22 June 2010
- David Frum, “Gingrich: Obama Wants Whitey’s Money,” Frum Forum, 13 September 2010; See David Frum and Richard Perle, An End to Evil: How To Win the War on Terror (New York: Random House. 2003)