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.

Drezner on the academic/policy divide

As someone who plans to straddle the academic/policy divide I found Drezner’s (over at FP) recent post quite interesting. Here is an excerpt:

I think the academic/policy divide has been wildly overblown, but here’s my modest suggestion on how to bridge it even further.  First, wonks should flip through at recent issues of APSR and ISQ — and hey, peruse International Organization, International Security, and World Politics while you’re at it.  You’d find a lot of good, trenchant, policy-adjacent stuff.  Second, might I suggest that authors at these journals be allowed to write a second abstract — and abstract for policymakers, if you will?  Even the most jargonesed academic should be able to pull off one paragraph of clean prose.  Finally, wonks should not be frightened by statistics.  That is by far the dominant “technical” barrier separating these articles from general interest reader. 

More on this here.

For a slightly different view of social science and its relevance check out this piece by Clarke and Primo over at the Times.

On the unintended consequences of the Sachs-Kristoff syndrome

Badvocacy alert!

With due apologies to the eminent economist and journalist.

Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 publicity push is generating some backlash. Here is quoting Under the Banyan:

Critics of the Invisible Children campaign say that while it is well-intentioned and while Kony deserves international condemnation, there are questions about the organisation’s methods, money and support for military action that need to be answered. Others are revulsed (sic) by the idea of foreigners thinking they can solve an entrenched and complex problem with goodwill alone.

More on this here. And for those interested in the complexity of the issue click here.

I am still learning to block out all the misguided interventions by the members do-gooder industrial complex of our time. Sometimes I wish I could wave a magic wand and make the tenants of State Houses across the Continent to also ignore the prophets of this axis of distraction-from-the-real-problems.

Also, I only discovered Invisible Children after the latest brouhaha but it turns out that Blattman was already in their case three years ago.

H/T A View from the Cave.

The missing big thinkers

In order to think big your country/region must have some geopolitical significance… or so it seems.

Here is a quote from the comment section on Dan Drezner’s post on the big thinkers that were overlooked in the FP 100 top thinkers list.

What’s the criteria for big thinkers? do they precede big issues or are they considered big thinkers bc their issues are perceived as important? or because they’re closer to those who get to decide what ‘big thinking’ is?

it’s nice to know that no one in Africa or Latin America is thinking – five or so out of the list of 100 is hardly inclusive.

africa’s Middle class

Elizabeth Dickinson at FP reports:

Given all this, perhaps the only thing about Africa that isn’t changing quickly is our perceptions of it. There’s an image impressed in all of our minds of a starving child, symobilizing an impoverished continent. If that was ever true, this is an excellent reminder that today, it’s at most a snapshot. Yes, there’s great human suffering and it’s not hard to find. But Africa as a whole is becoming a middle class continent.

It is hard to completely buy Dickinson’s optimism given the fact that Somalia, the DRC, Chad, Central Africa Republic, Sudan, among others are still far from being stable polities. The precarious nature of the stability in the more stable African states such as Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda e.t.c. are also cause for concern.

That said, the reality is that there are many Africas. Those who fail to internalize that fact continue to do so at their own peril. Just ask the Indians and the Chinese.

southern sudan

As the January 9th, 2011 referendum draws closer the international community is getting concerned about the consequences of Southern Sudanese independence. Many fear that the north, led by the strongman Omar al-Bashir, will not honor the CPA and let the Southerners go. Southern stability is also a concern. Once in the early 1990s the SPLA/M split along ethnic lines (Machar, the leader of the splinter SPLA-Nasir, eventually came back to the fold). Recent skirmishes in the South are testament to the fact that ethnicized civil war may yet visit an independent Southern Sudan.

Check out this post on FP.

In other news, the Continental club of ineffectual autocrats African Union is meeting in Uganda. More on this soon.

is france messing up africa?

Elizabeth Dickinson at FP asks. Whatever the answer might be one thing is clear: France still has commercial and geopolitical interests in French-speaking Africa and would love to maintain close ties with the region, even if it means propping up misguided dictators who buy homes in the French Riviera while their own people starve.

The BBC adds that “a human rights group has said that some of the troops and leaders should instead be facing trial for war crimes.”

The images of French president Nicholas Sarkozy sitting next to Blaise Compraore, the murderous Burkinabe autocrat who came to power in 1987 after dispatching his predecessor Thomas Sankara to his maker, captured it all.

failed states index

Foreign Policy, in its July/August issue has 2010′s failed states index. The Continent has 12 of the top 20 worst performers on this index, with Somalia, Chad, Sudan, Zimbabwe and the DRC being in the top five respectively. Kenya is 13th on this index, performing worse than Niger, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone, among other basket cases. The substantive meaning of the rankings aside (I’d rather be in Kenya than in Sierra Leone on any day), the index is a grim reminder of how badly governed the Continent is. The best ranked mainland African state is Ghana, at number 54. Mauritius leads the Continent at number 30, out of 177.

Also in the FP issue is an exposé of Bozize’s Central African Republic. I used to think that he was doing a relatively good job. Turns out he is full of bucket-loads of horse manure:

“Bozizé has fared no better than his predecessors, ruling a territory the size of Texas with a GDP significantly smaller than that of Pine Bluff, Arkansas.”

And don’t miss out on Ayittey’s ranking of the world’s worst dictators. Our good friend Rob is second only to the crazy guy who runs North Korea.

Lastly, I must say something about my favorite punching bag Idriss Deby’s Chad. Idriss Deby is a study in ineffectual leadership and is on the list of Africa’s many ‘wasted dictatorships.’ In 2006 he successfully conned his way out of the World Bank brokered plan to use revenue from the Chad-Cameroon pipeline to reduce poverty among his country’s extremely impoverished 10.3 million souls. He now uses most of Chad’s oil revenue to fund his poorly-run security forces that remain vulnerable to any rebel group that can land its hands on a technical. But with over 1.5 billion barrels in reserves and a world thirsty for oil, it appears that this Zaghawa “warrior” is here to stay, his incompetence notwithstanding.

The HDI numbers tell it all. The literacy rate in Chad is at a dismal 25%. Life expectancy stands at 48 years. 80% of Chadian’s live on less than a dollar a day. The growth rate of the economy, -1% last year, -0.2% in 2008 and 0.6% in 2007, cannot keep up with the population growth rate of more than 2% (despite a rather high infant mortality rate of 97 deaths/1000 live births) – which means that Chadians’ living standards will continue to decline into the foreseeable future.  The bulk of Chadians (more than 80%) make do with subsistence agriculture. Oil, cotton, cattle and gum arabic are the country’s main export commodities.

sources: FP and The CIA World Factbook

africa’s endless conflicts

The New York Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman has a thought-provoking piece in Foreign Policy. I don’t particularly buy his doomsday analysis (most of the Continent will definitely not head the Somalia way) but his characterization of the modern day African rebel movement is spot on. The typical rebel leader on the Continent is nothing but a roving bandit with huge amounts of ideology deficit.

required reading for africa’s ruling elite

The discourse on Africa in the West (and elsewhere) is laden with a lot of offensive stuff. And the offensive stuff is not restricted to plebes in the streets or newspaper articles written by ill-informed correspondents. Even more informed people still lapse into the default way of conceptualizing Africa. It is not uncommon to hear prejudicial and condescending comments about the Continent and its people in academic seminars and workshops.

Reading through Foreign Policy (FP) I found a piece that despite its tone and subliminal cues, should be required reading for Africa’s ruling elite. The article is offensive (may be innocently so) in the sense that the editors of FP thought it worthwhile to publish an article that seeks to tell the world that Africa is not a reincarnation of England circa 1200 A.D. The reason I suggest this as required reading is that sometimes I wonder if the ruling classes in some of the states on the Continent ever pose to think of the consequences of their actions in the wider setting of the globe. How do images from eastern Congo, Darfur, Somalia and other such places contribute to the definition of the Continent and its peoples?