From the energy of black America in the turmoil of the Sixties, Fela Kuti, crafted his spiritual Africa. In Wakanda, America can find the endangered spirit of its democratic Republic.

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The Most Dangerous Game

The first and best-known iteration of this story line in pulp magazines is Richard Cornell’s short story ‘The Hounds of Zaroff‘, published in ‘Collier’s’ in January 1924, about two American big game hunters ship-wrecked on a Caribbean island inhabited by an impeccably well-mannered Cossack general who’s obsessed with hunting humans. (The story was so popular that it was filmed by RKO in 1932 as ‘The Most Dangerous Game‘ – by which name it’s better known – and featured as an episode of CBS’s radio serial ‘Suspense‘ in 1943, starring Orson Welles).

This horrific trope has been ground so deeply into the grout of American pop culture that it cropped up in the Nineties as the lurid conspiracy theory that Dick Cheyney was part of a secret elite ‘sport’ of hunting human prey on their private estates (it seemed that people had forgotten that it was the plot of a 1932 RKO flick starring Fay Wray and Leslie Banks… as Aaron John Gulyas points out in his book ‘Conspiracy Theories: The Roots, Themes and Propagation of Paranoid Political and Cultural Narratives‘). This bizarre and utterly baseless libel took an even stranger turn when, in 2004, Vice President Cheyney did in fact shoot 78-year-old Texan attorney Harry Whittington in the face during a quail hunt on Whittington’s Texas ranch. The elderly lawyer was left with 30 pieces of bird shot in his head, neck and shoulder, which surgeons thought better left alone than risk their removal. At the time of the accident, Cheyney said that he and Whittington were friends. Subsequently, Whittingdon described Cheyney as an “acquaintance” and declined to comment further when asked if he’d received an apology from the former Vice President.

In Black Panther’s first comic book appearance, an African ruler invites four white, super powered American astronauts – their Ivy League-educated and super stretchy pipe-smoking alpha male leader, literally and without irony, called Mr Fantastic – to his isolated nation (with overtones not only of fictional micro-kingdoms like the ones in ‘Lost Horizon’ and Michael Powell’s film ‘Black Narcissus‘, but also of real ones like Bhutan, and in Africa of Swaziland and the kingdom of Dahomey in what’s now Benin). This is only a ruse, though, so that the King of Wakanda can hunt them in order to test his aptitude.

The symbolism extended way beyond Black Panther being ‘big game’ that proves to be the superior predator, however. Five years before the Marvel comic was published, the independence leader and first prime minister of the resource-rich DRC, Patrice Lumumba, had been killed by a Katangan firing squad, with probable assistance in his capture, imprisonment and transfer to the breakaway Katangan state from Belgium – the majority of Belgians in the DRC in 1961 were living in Katanga – and from the CIA. Lumumba was murdered two weeks before John Kennedy was inaugurated as US President, and it was widely assumed within CIA and the American government generally that Kennedy intended that the US under his Presidency would support the democratically elected Congolese leader, Lumumba. The timing of Lumumba’s killing has, therefore, been viewed widely as in no way coincidental.

Instead, Belgian and other foreign mining interests were protected and the DRC fell under the rule of one of the CIA-backed conspirators who murdered Lumumba, Mobutu Sese Seko, whose name went on to become a byword for bloodthirsty dictatorship in Africa. (As Congo’s absolute President, Mobutu became increasingly convinced of the power of traditional African magic. A man haunted by his own acts of treachery and betrayal, Mobutu was said by his own Ministers to drink human blood in rituals to ward off assassination attempts).

In 1966, Stan Lee and Kirby subverted recent events in the news by having a legitimate African leader turn the tables on the rising technological superpower, the United States, which is embodied in the form of astronaut-scientist super heroes. (Lee slightly cheated when it came to the thorny issue of T’Challa’s elective mandate. While Wakanda operates as an absolute monarchy, the transfer of power after a ruler’s death is by ritual combat open to all, which is depicted in the 2018 movie).

Lee and Kirby then further inverted the logic of reader’s expectations by having Black Panther rapidly shift from being the antagonist to become the Fantastic Four’s ally, as they team up to fight white South African mercenary Ulysses Klaw, who’s after Wakanda’s unique deposit of vibranium. (Super villain Klaw – who has a literal claw-like sonic weapon for a hand made from vibranium – is played by Andy Serkis in the film. In the original comics, Klaw is Lee’s and Kirby’s sardonic commentary on gung ho European adventurers in Africa in the mold of H Rider Haggard’s heroes and the British colonial firebrand Cecil Rhodes).

Lee has denied any link between his Black Panther and the name of the radical political party, though the comic book Black Panther predates the founding of the Black Panther Party by three months. ” I didn’t think of that at all!” Lee told ‘AlterEgo’ magazine in 2005. “It had nothing to do with our character, although a lot of people thought there was some tie-in. And I was really sorry – maybe if I had it to do over again, I’d have given him another name, because I hate that confusion to be caused.”

Wakanda’s technological advancement based on vibranium is an uncannily prescient foreshadowing of the way in which metals such as coltan, used mainly for the production of tantalum capacitors, became central from the Nineties onward to the increased miniaturisation and sophistication of mobile phone technology. (Coltan from DRC accounted for 18.6% of world production in 2013, up from 1.2% in 2003 according to the US Geological Survey Minerals Yearbook). This, in turn, caused numerous external actors with a stake in the DRC’s natural wealth – especially European and North American mining companies, Israeli arms dealers and Rwandan and Zimbabwean senior military officers – to meddle in Congolese politics, prolonging one of the worst wars in recent African history.

In a rare and under-reported act by President Trump’s Treasury Department through the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), America has – very belatedly – brought in sanctions against 13 people and their associated companies, including Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler, a close associate of DRC President Joseph Kabila, who appears in the Paradise papers leak. The US OFAC accuses Gertler of corrupt dealings that have deprived DRC’s state coffers of $1.36bn through “opaque and corrupt mining and oil deals”.

The Paradise Papers and US Treasury combined have therefore been more successful in punishing exploitation of DRC’s wealth than the supposed ‘gold standard’ for reining-in rogue transnational business, the (entirely voluntary) OECD Guidelines for Multinationals. In 2003, a UN Expert Panel report on companies and individuals who profited from breaches of the Guidelines in DRC took the unprecedented – and since then, unrepeated – step of naming and shaming the bad guys. The 2003 UN report contains a long list of cases which, since its publication 15 years ago, have either been investigated by the respective national ‘contact point’ – usually a lone and beleaguered civil servant in a trade ministry charged with overseeing the code of conduct – but no action has been taken. Many cases haven’t even been investigated at all.

Incredibly, to President Trump’s credit, America is alone in having taken action on what’s arguably some of the worst exploitation of Africa in the last few decades. On this, admittedly quite technical but nonetheless fairly important matter affecting the DRC, which also sets a valuable precedent that foreign investors are liable when they exploit fragile countries, Trump has followed through and done the right thing.

I’ll repeat that in case you thought you dreamed it: when it comes to foreign companies exploiting the Congo, and when compared with the UN, the OECD and the rest of the international community… President Trump has followed through and done the right thing. That’s how messed up the rest of the world’s relationship with Africa is.

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