Clouding King's Legacy - By Norman Solomon FWD

Tom Boland (
Sat, 4 Apr 1998 20:27:24 -0800 (PST)

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By Norman Solomon  /  Creators Syndicate

     Whether by design or a random twist of fate, President
Clinton's scheduled return to Washington from his historic Africa
trip came just before the 30th anniversary of the death of Martin
Luther King Jr.

     Another laudatory statement from the White House was
predictable. Like countless other politicians, Clinton often pays
tribute to King -- while selectively praising his legacy.

     But imagine the media uproar if Clinton had stepped off Air
Force One and proceeded to quote some of King's less palatable

     For instance, in a speech exactly one year before he was
assassinated on April 4, 1968, King declared: "A true revolution
of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of
poverty and wealth." And he denounced "capitalists of the West
investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America,
only to take the profits out with no concern for the social
betterment of the countries."

     The mass media and both major parties have no use for this
sort of talk. They like the safe images of King as a great
orator, a brave civil-rights leader, a martyr on a postage stamp.

     King's denunciations of predatory investments in the Third
World may seem outdated or exaggerated. After all, journalists
and pundits frequently tell us, investments from abroad are key
to the uplift of poor nations, especially in this era of economic

     But the truth is more complex -- and the continent that
President Clinton just visited is a prime example. You wouldn't
know it from the usual media coverage, but foreign investors have
brought widespread calamities to Africa.

     The popular myth is that the West has poured humanitarian
aid into Africa. But in the real world, more money is flowing
ITAL>out<ITAL of Africa than into it. The reason? "Debt service"
-- the loan repayments, including interest and portions of the
principal, required by banks and other lenders.

     "Africa actually pays out more than four times as much on
debt servicing ... than it spends on education and health
services," scholar Deborah L. Toler reports in the April issue of
Essence magazine. Toler, who lived and worked in Africa for many
years, is a senior research analyst at the Institute for Food and
Development Policy based in Oakland, Calif. (The institute can be
reached on the World Wide Web at

     "Western economic exploitation continues through unfair
trade practices and enforcement of crushing debt burdens," Toler
writes. That's an update on the kind of analysis that Martin
Luther King offered during his final years. It wasn't welcomed by
U.S. news media then, and it doesn't seem to be any more
appreciated now.

     Like many other scholars and activists, Toler is highly
critical of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund --
 which, she contends, "are responsible for the economic hardships
behind many conflicts in Africa today. To repay these two
international lenders of last resort for loans taken out in the
'70s and '80s, many countries have cut expenses on social
services like schools and health clinics, and they've downsized
by eliminating civil-service jobs."

     What's more, Toler says, the lenders have undermined local
agriculture: "Loan-repayment programs also force African
governments to emphasize exporting to earn the foreign exchange
to repay their loans. Trouble is, the emphasis on exports means
less focus on growing food for local consumption, and small
farmers are being pushed onto fragile lands where crop yields

     In recent days, the news media have carried many tributes to
Dr. King. Mostly, they stress his quest for racial equality --
but shed little light on the challenge to economic injustice that
increasingly preoccupied him.

     Decrying enormous income gaps, King called for "radical
changes in the structure of our society" to redistribute wealth
and power. During his last months, he was organizing the Poor
People's Campaign, "a multiracial army of the poor" that would
converge on Washington. He accused Congress of "hostility to the
poor" -- appropriating "military funds with alacrity and
generosity" but providing "poverty funds with miserliness."

     "The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the
total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty," King said in
early 1968. But in 1998, the big media outlets that trumpet his
"dream" aren't repeating such words. Whether in Africa or
America, the powerful have a very different agenda.


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