Goodworks, bad crooks
“There’s a class of African Americans who feel no sense of responsibility, no shame, no ties to the [African] continent, who are incapable of playing any kind of role. I think we see that with Condoleezza Rice. We see it even more clearly in some of the other appointments which have been recently made, like the new assistant secretary of state for Africa, Jendayi Frazer. So we see African Americans often emerging as functionaries of the system, the gendarmes, if you will, of the system for the re-colonisation of Africa by both the corporate and military establishments in the United States”.
Young’s business relations with Africa have been criticised. The sharpest suspicions have focused on his involvement with Nigeria and go beyond his friendly relationship with Obasanjo since the late 1970s. Despite its credo “we do well by doing good”, GoodWorks seems to represent the double face of black US economic involvement in “mother Africa” since the late 1990s, dealings supported by free trade agreements between the US and the “good students” of Africa.
La lettre du Continent, a newsletter of political, business and financial affairs in francophone Africa, described GoodWorks as the first of the African-American intermediaries who are “setting themselves up as the new levers of US power in Africa”. According to its editor, Antoine Glaser: “They may lead the way in public commitment to ethical principles like transparency in business dealings with Africa, but they are also directly involved with much-criticised individuals like the Angolan president Eduardo dos Santos. This can only get worse as China, which regularly exploits its status as a power untainted by colonialism, emerges as an economic rival [to the US] in Africa.”
People like Young exploit their reputation in the media and across sub-Saharan Africa as veterans of the civil rights struggle, as well as their African roots. They advance the US quest to reap the dividends of financial aid. “The term Françafrique is obsolete,” said Glaser. “We need to find a new word to describe the grip that these African-American consultants have secured over the continent’s business as subcontractors for leading US companies and for the State Department.” It is significant that GoodWorks has chosen to open its offices exclusively in countries benefiting from US customs preferences.
Even before revelations of relations between GoodWorks and Nigeria provoked US newspapers, the international justice movement and US campaigners for social rights had attacked the company. In 1999 Young accepted Nike’s invitation to lead a mission to its factories in southeast Asia. His report concluded there was “no evidence or pattern of abuse or mistreatment of workers”. A few weeks later an independent report denounced “unsafe, inhuman and abysmal conditions” in the same factories.
In February 2006 Wal-Mart persuaded Young to lead its pressure group Working Families for Wal-Mart. His task was to restore the retailing giant’s image, particularly among the black community and the “hungry” whom Christ told us “to feed... good, fresh food”. But Young was forced to resign when his remarks about small storekeepers from ethnic minorities provoked accusations of racism. “I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough,” he said. “First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it’s Arabs, very few black people own these stores.” An embarrassed Wal-Mart representative said: “We are appalled by these comments. We are also dismayed that they would come from someone who has worked so hard for so many years for equal rights.”
Gendarmes of the system
In 2007, as the presidential election was fought in Nigeria, African-American websites attacked GoodWorks. Prexy Nesbitt of Chicago, another civil rights veteran and an architect of the US 1970s campaign against South African apartheid, said: “There’s a class of African Americans who feel no sense of responsibility, no shame, no ties to the [African] continent, who are incapable of playing any kind of role. I think we see that with Condoleezza Rice. We see it even more clearly in some of the other appointments which have been recently made, like the new assistant secretary of state for Africa, Jendayi Frazer. So we see African Americans often emerging as functionaries of the system, the gendarmes, if you will, of the system for the re-colonisation of Africa by both the corporate and military establishments in the United States”.
GoodWorks exploited its relationship with Obasanjo, whom Young associated with “everything good in Africa since the 1960s”, to access decision-making circles in Africa. The journalist Ken Silverstein, an expert on business relations between the US and Africa, said of GoodWorks’ ethical pretensions: “Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin [recently said] that GoodWorks has proven that public-purpose capitalism is possible. If the public she refers to is composed of corrupt African leaders, their American cronies, and huge international energy conglomerates, she’s right. But if she was trying to say that GoodWorks is living up to its name when it comes to fighting African poverty, she couldn’t have been more wrong.”
GoodWorks’ directors include two African-Americans who have been US ambassadors to Nigeria: Howard Jeter and Walter Carrington. The head of its office in the Nigerian capital Abuja, Sharon Ikeazor, was formerly a lawyer in Royal Dutch Shell’s Nigerian office. Carlton A Masters, GoodWorks’s current head and co-founder, is a naturalised US citizen originally from Jamaica. In June 2005 he married Leon H Sullivan’s daughter at a ceremony in Abuja. One of the guests was Obasanjo, members of whose entourage joined Masters to form a company, Sunscope Investments, in Florida.
In 2006 the Abuja-based Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) appointed Masters as its special envoy on African diasporan relations. Nigerians living in the US wondered why their government, which already has competent diplomats in the US, would want to pay $500,000 a year to a lobbying company like GoodWorks. Steve Nwabuzor, president of the Nigerian Leadership Foundation, asked: “Does it mean there are no suitable Africans within Ecowas who can fill this position (9)?” Masters defended himself: “I fully intend to use this appointment to not only bring global attention to Africa’s needs, but also to strengthen relations between the US and the 15 African nations that comprise Ecowas.”
GoodWorks blames such criticism from both sides of the Atlantic on the Nigerian vice president Atiku Abubakar, an unsuccessful candidate in this April’s election. It accuses him of spreading lies throughout the Nigerian diaspora to further his personal ambitions. For months a campaign against corruption has provided a pretext for an exchange of press releases and revelations between supporters of Obasanjo’s protégé in the election, Umaru Yar’Adua, and those defending Abubakar, who has been accused of embezzlement.