US Africa Policy, A Response

This is a guest post by friend of the blog Matthew Kustenbauder responding to a previous post.

On the question of human rights guiding America’s foreign policy in Africa, I agree with you; it shouldn’t be the first priority. The US needs a more pragmatic development diplomacy strategy, which would help African countries develop just as it would help American businesses thrive.

But I disagree with your characterization of Hillary’s position in this respect. Here’s Secretary Clinton’s own words:
“Last year I laid out America’s economic statecraft agenda in a series of speeches in Washington, Hong Kong, San Francisco, and New York. Since then, we’ve accelerated the process of updating our foreign policy priorities to take economics more into account. And that includes emphasizing the Asia Pacific region and elevating economics in relations with other regions, like in Latin America, for example, the destination for 40 percent of U.S. exports. We have ratified free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. We are welcoming more of our neighbours, including Canada and Mexico, into the Trans-Pacific Partnership process. And we think it’s imperative that we continue to build an economic relationship that covers the entire hemisphere for the future.” 
“Africa is home to seven of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies. People are often surprised when I say that, but it’s true. And we are approaching Africa as a continent of opportunity and a place for growth, not just a site of endless conflict and crisis. All over the world, we are turning to economic solutions for strategic challenges; for example, using new financial tools to squeeze Iran’s nuclear program. And we’re stepping up commercial diplomacy, what I like to call jobs diplomacy, to boost U.S. exports, open new markets, lower the playing field – level the playing field for our businesses. And we’re building the diplomatic capacity to execute this agenda so that our diplomats are out there every single day promoting our economic agenda.” 

One of the problems, however, is that the pragmatic approach articulated by the Secretary doesn’t trickle down through the bureaucracy. This is especially true, ironically, of the State Department’s primary development diplomacy arm, USAID, which has a deeply entrenched culture of being anti-business. It’s a huge problem, and part of the reason why American foreign policy in Africa has been so slow to adjust to new economic realities.

Security drives US Africa Policy

Security drives US Africa Policy

Academics schooled in all the latest development orthodoxies but lacking the most basic understanding of economic or business history have flocked to USAID, so that the suggestion that American economic interests should guide development policy – making it a win-win for Africa and America – is anathema. It’s also why the Chinese are running all over the US in Africa.

As a prominent economic historian recently remarked in the Telegraph, “While we [Western governments] indulge our Victorian urge to give alms to the Africans, Beijing is pumping black gold.” And this is just it. As long as the US approaches Africa as a beggar needing to be saved and not as a business partner worthy of attention, both sides will continue to lose out.

In this respect, what Africa does not need is another “old Africa hand” steeped in conventional development ideas and old dogmas about what’s wrong with Africa and why the US must atone for the West’s sins. For this reason alone, John Kerry – not Susan Rice – probably stands a better chance, as the next Secretary of State, at putting American foreign policy toward Africa on a more solid footing.

- Matthew Kustenbauder is a PhD candidate in history at Harvard University.

More on the DRC

CFR has a nice interview with Jason Stearns, DRC expert and author of Dancing in the Glory of Monsters. Jason in part notes that:

This crisis has brought about a shift in international donor policy for the region, in particular criticism and financial sanctions against Rwanda, which is something that’s new. However, using aid as leverage only makes sense in the context of a larger political process. Bashing Rwanda just for the sake of bashing Rwanda is not a solution. There needs to be a comprehensive political process into which that kind of pressure can be funneled and channeled. But there is no such process at the moment. What you have are talks mediated by a regional body—the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR)—that has the irony of being presided over by Uganda, which is itself playing a role in the conflict by supporting the M23. These talks have been largely limited to an evaluation of the March 23, 2009 peace deal, and the potential formation of a regional military force to deal with the FDLR and M23. But the causes of the crisis run much deeper and involve the failure of local governance, the weakness of the Congolese army, and the persistent meddling of neighboring countries in Congolese affairs.

This is precisely what informs my contention that there is too much focus on the international dimension of the conflict at the expense of the kinds of reforms that Congo needs in order to improve state capacity in Sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country.

You can’t do business, implement a human rights regime, or even pretend to have democratic governance in a stateless environment (Unless, of course, you live in a state of nature in which everyone has capacity to defend themselves against aggression by others).

Some, including very serious and influential people, think that the solution to Congo’s weakness is to plea with its neighbors not to prey on it. I disagree. I believe that the best solution ought to be the strengthening of Congo so it can deter its neighbors. The international community just wasted a good opportunity to force a cornered Kabila to agree on a peace deal that is self-enforcing, i.e., that reflects the power balance in eastern Congo.

As things stand the continuation of the power vacuum in the Kivus will continue to attract rebels, foreign-sponsored or not.

More on this here.

Also here is a  glimpse of some of the actions by Kabila and his Kinshasa cabal which make it extremely unlikely that the situation in Congo will improve under his rule.

The democratic republic of congo

Just in case you forgot, the Kivus are still on fire. Thousands of people remain displaced. Dozens routinely get killed and raped by both government and rebel forces, and sometimes even by UN peacekeepers. Things are crazy bad out there.

Meanwhile, Kabila and his cabal in Kinshasa remain as ineffectual as ever with no apparent strategy or plan, not just for the Kivus, but for the whole country.

The ICG has this nice report on the Congo. People may not agree on the priorities and approaches of resolving the conflict in the Kivu’s, but this report provides a good background for those who are new to the conflict.

Also check out this Report on the Congo from the Congressional Research Office.

the drc: the fire continues to consume lives unabated

In the recent past the Niger coup, the return of the ailing Nigerian president Umaru Yar’Adua from a hospital in Saudi Arabia and the supposed peace deal between Khartoum and the Darfuris have stolen most headlines on the Continent.

But let us not forget that the eastern reaches of the DRC still approximate a war zone, to put it mildly. The ineffectual government in the opposite side of the country in Kinshasa still lacks the capacity to provide any amount of security to its citizens in the east. Makes you wonder why the DRC still survives as a single sovereign state.

The number of actual dead in the bloody civil conflict that begun with Kabila’s match towards Kinshasa in 1998 is sort of debatable – ranging from a low of just over 2 million to a high of 5.4 million, pick your number. Really, does it matter that only 2 million human beings instead of 5 million have so far died in the conflict? At this point should the numbers even matter?.

So let us not lose perspective here. Even by conservative estimates more than 2 million lives have been lost. Millions of children continue to stay out of school (with grave long-term consequences for the security and economy of the region). And those that benefit from the conflict – the generals and arms and mineral smugglers – continue to do so with impunity. There is also no question that international big business is either directly or indirectly bankrolling the conflict (check out the more detailed report from Global Witness here). Hillary Clinton’s visit last year to Goma highlighted the unbearably gruesome existence of those (especially women and children) who are unfortunate enough to find themselves in a war zone. Everyone who matters in the country and region know these facts. So the big question is: What will it take to change people’s approach to this conflict? Why isn’t more being done?

the democratic republic of congo, what a mess

The Democratic Republic of Congo is in a deep hole. And it is not just because its president, the younger Kabila, wants to extend presidential terms by 2 years and then may be abolish term limits, at least according to the Economist.  It is primarily because almost everyone in the country seems to have incentives to keep the war in the east raging on – well, everyone except the civilians on the ground. The New York Times reports that an upcoming UN Report will implicate bigwigs in the Congolese army of colluding with rebels in the east to profit from illegal mineral exports, among other commodities. FDLR, the rebel outfit which has among its ranks remnants of the genocidal Intarahamwe from Rwanda, is among the chief beneficiaries.

Quoting the Times:

There is ….. creeping warlordism. Local army commanders are taxing timber, charcoal, tomatoes, anything that passes through their roadblocks, making $250,000 a month, the report said. Commanders are even conscripting civilians to haul wood through the forest, reminiscent of the Belgian colonial days when pith-helmeted officers whipped Congolese porters with hippopotamus hide.”

The Congo conflict is more than anything else an economic conflict. It will only stop when those profiting from it come to their senses (I don’t know what will prompt this if 5 million deaths and counting can’t do the trick). And the web of war-profiteers  is huge.

Meanwhile in Zambia, it’s everything goes like it is still 1991. A section of donors have suspended aid to the health ministry because $ 2.1 million went missing (“more than 100,000 Zambians die every year from malaria and HIV/AIDS”– Economist). The government is reluctant to fight corruption. Mr. Rupiah Banda, the current president, seems bent on becoming the new Frederick Chiluba – the kleptocrat who ruled Zambia for ten years. Things never change.

who is funding this war?

The BBC is reporting that the FDLR, a group suspected to include genocidaires from Rwanda’s 1994 disaster, has retaken positions it ceded a month ago to Rwandan troops. Earlier this year Rwandan troops had moved into Eastern DRC with a mission to take out FDLR positions. However, it is now emerging that as soon as Rwanda left, the FDLR moved back and retook their old bases.

congo-mine1These new developments just serve to illustrate how intractable the mess in Eastern Congo is. For years now Uganda, Rwanda and the weak Kinshasa governments of Kabila I and II have tried to restore order in this part of the vast central African country without success. It seems like the more the government tries to end the war the more rebel movements emerge. Which begs the question, exactly who is funding this war?

That foreign companies are accomplices in the Congo war is not a secret. The control of mines and trading centres (for tax purposes) seem to be the main motivations for the emergence of the numerous rebel groups. Someone is buying the minerals that come from these mines and someone is supplying the rag tag bandits with guns and ammunition. I am sure it is within the means of the UN and the many involved parties – if they mean well in their involvement – to expose the companies that are involved in this messy war, either as arms dealers or purchasers of minerals.

Just like it was in Sierra Leone with blood diamonds, the international community can shame the companies involved in this war to come clean and end the economic incentives for the proliferation of rebel groups and gangs in eastern Congo.

The following are some American-owned companies that were implicated in a 2002 UN report on the Congo war profiteers: Cabot Corporation, Eagle Wings Resources International, Trinitech International, Kemet Electronics Corporation, OM Group and Visgay Sprague …… and there are others.

The Congo war is a resource war and the sooner those trying to stop it acknowledge this fact and deal with it, the easier it is going to be to come up with modalities of how to end it.