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An African Occupy Wall Street

As the Occupy Wall Street movement head into the tenth week – KUNC commentator Pius Kamau finds parallels with much that has occurred in Africa over the last 60 years. He says the corporate greed that has impoverished Africans will likely play out in America too if nothing is done about it.

At the time of his death in 1997 – President for life Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire had amassed $15 billion in Swiss banks. All this wealth, while his countrymen lived in dire poverty, many dying of starvation. The United States backed him, as European businesses pillaged and plundered the country's national resources. As I watch the Occupy Wall Street movement mature even here in Colorado, I'm reminded of Mobutu for I believe there are many parallels. A deep disconnect exists between that tiny sliver of men with power and wealth who rule the other 99%. Us.

Many of Africa's so called "big men" like Mobutu – have been supported by Western capitalism: corporations, arms merchants, minerals bandits, and all with the blessing of Western governments. They have also rendered wide swathes of Africa into barren wastelands.

Americans live comfortably with materials that are procured in very dubious circumstances. Diamonds from Sierra Leone and Coltran are used in our cell phones for example. Coltran’s mined by armed lawless gangs who rape and enslave large numbers in the Congo. It has caused me great pain to see the amassing of wealth by so few that has meant misery, abject poverty and death for millions. Sadly Mobutu Sese Seko – like Wall Street billionaires – and others elsewhere couldn't be bothered. Thankfully, at last a few of us are beating the drums of justice. It is just possible that someone on Wall Street and the other financial centers might pay attention.

A continent graced with amazing wealth has been used to stoke the fires of capitalism’s engine. It has not been done with justice and equity but with brazen, shameless bravura. It can only do Africa good that Occupy Wall Street people are aware of this. The capitalist ethos of profits before all else – including people and the environment – has got to change.

Capitalism guided by sanity, a measure of wisdom, honesty and charity is the best economic system devised by man. But we fail miserably when in our insanity to greedily amass wealth at all costs we forget our fellow man deserves a fair shake. Gandhi said, and Occupy Wall Street folks agree, that: “politics without principle, wealth without work, business without morality,” are a recipe for disaster.

Surely everyone must agree that what’s good for capitalism must also be good for Africa. The current Occupy Wall Street movement – I’m happy to say – addresses many of the concerns I have harbored for decades. Such as requiring corporations to be more responsible; making our governments care for the good of humanity rather than maximizing the profits of a few. In the end the battle is not just in Africa or America – but worldwide. Between the 99% of us and those that believe they’ve been chosen and can behave with impunity.

Born in Kenya and trained in Spain, Pius Kamau has been in surgical practice in the Denver area for three decades. He was a columnist for The Rocky Mountain News and has written for The Denver Post. Kamau’s commentaries have also been featured on NPR, in the Huffington Post and other national magazines and newspapers. He’s also contributed to several books and recently finished his memoir.
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