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.

What Obama’s re-election means for US Africa Policy

On the 14th of June this year President Obama outlined his policy for Sub-Saharan Africa. Included in the policy statement were four key strategic objectives: (1) strengthen democratic institutions; (2) spur economic growth, trade, and investment; (3) advance peace and security; and (4) promote opportunity and development.

In my view, of the four aspirational goals the one that will receive the most attention in the near future will be the third (especially security).

US strategic security interests in Africa mainly involve two key concerns: (1) China’s growing economic presence in the region and (2) the spread of Al-Qaeda linked groups in the region, stretching from Somalia to Mauritania (This is why Mali featured more prominently than the EU in the Presidential foreign policy debate). Before talking about China, here are my thoughts on the US campaign against  al-Qaeda in Africa.

While I don’t foresee any success in the creation of an African base for AFRICOM, the US will continue to cooperate with AU member states in fighting Islamist extremism in the region. The “successful” AU mission in Somalia could provide a blueprint for future operations against potential terror groups. The biggest lesson from Somalia is that the US cannot just pick one nation (in this case Ethiopia) to fight its wars in the region, and that a collaborative effort with the blessing of the regional umbrella organization (the AU) and others such as IGAD can deliver results.

Having helped (both directly and indirectly) in the ouster of Al-Shabaab from strategic locations in Somalia, the next big task will be dealing with the mushrooming Islamist extremism in the Sahel (especially in northern Mali but also in Niger and Nigeria).

The problem of extremism in the Sahel is further compounded by the link of some of the groups to the drug trade flowing from Latin America and into Europe. There is significant evidence that drug money has financed the activities of separatist groups in northern Mali. The fight against these groups will necessarily involve dealing with this crucial source of finance. This means that for the operation to succeed the US will have to engage in capacity building and the strengthening (and clean-up) of security institutions (especially the armies) in states like Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, South Africa, Kenya, among others, in which officials in the security sector have been implicated in the drug trade.

The Sahelian challenge might yet prove more formidable than Somalia. The latter case had relatively stable neighbors that served to contain the anarchy. The Sahel (Sahelistan, if you will) is much larger and includes some of the least governed spaces on the planet.

On China, the US (and for that matter, the rest of the West) has to change its present approach of total freak-out overt suspicion over Chinese involvement in Africa. Africans need protection from China only as much as they need protection from the West. China is not out to “exploit” Africa any more than the West has. Nobody should expect China to engage Africa more benevolently than the West did for the better part of the last 60 years (Mobutu and Bokassa were not that different from Bashir and Mugabe).

A constructive approach ought to include policies designed to strengthen African states so that they can engage China on their own terms. It is ultimately African leaders who mortgage their resources and sovereignty to China (or the West). Instead of focusing too much on China, a better approach might be one that creates strong regional organizations (like the SADC or the EAC) that can improve the bargaining power of African states.

The other policy objectives outlined by Obama appear to fall in the business-as-usual category. Democracy promotion will not yield much in the face of other more pressing priorities (notice how security has triumphed over democracy in Mali). And unless the US is willing to get involved in massive infrastructure projects like China has (last time I checked they were in 35 African states), I don’t see how it can help spur economic growth in the region (AGOA was great, but Africa needs something better). Plus the US continues to be hampered in its development-promotion efforts by its aversion to state industrial policy. It’s about time Foggy Bottom realized that it is really hard to have a thriving private sector and American-style free enterprise in places with bad roads, very few (and bad) schools, and governments that are run by personalist dictators. In these instances some corruption-laden developmental state policies may be the best way to go.

Reason for African Petro-Rulers to be Worried

Africa’s petrorulers (heads of state of Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Sudan) may be headed for tough times later this year. According to a piece by (Steve Levine) over at FP, Saudi Arabia – the world’s leading oil producer – is considering flooding the global oil markets with the aim of sticking it to the Russians and Iranians. Saudi action of this nature could lower prices to as low as US $40 a barrel from the current $83.27.

With the exception of Ghana and Cameroon, such a drop in oil prices would almost certainly lead to political unrest in the rest of Africa’s oil producers. Sudan and South Sudan are already facing huge revenue shortfalls due to a dispute over the sharing of oil revenue.

More on “The Coming Oil Crash” here.

Tough trying to be good in a bad neighborhood

A few days ago a Kenyan judge ordered the government to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir if he ever sets foot in Kenya. Mr. Bashir has an outstanding arrest warrant against him from the ICC for crimes against humanity committed since 2003 in Darfur.

The ruling has since metastasized into a full blown diplomatic row; Khartoum expelled the Kenyan ambassador before rescinding the expulsion, and is now threatening to cut all trade ties with Kenya, expel Kenyans living in Sudan and deny any planes leaving or going to Kenya from flying in its airspace – if the government does not take back the ruling in two weeks.

The diplomatic row aside, the case has implications for the reform process in Kenya. The case is a test of the depth of the Kenyan judiciary’s new found independence from the executive.

According to Khartoum:

“al-Bashir expects Nairobi to scrap the arrest warrant within the next two weeks and not simply file an appeal.”

That is not how the judicial process works in a democracy. The executive cannot just scrap a judicial ruling. Within Kenya, for the sake of precedence the government must be seen to be complying with court rulings. The Chief Justice has already warned the executive against ignoring the court ruling saying that

“If a country chooses to live by anarchy, it must be ready to face the consequences of disregarding the law.”

It remains unclear what the executive will do given Khartoum’s two week ultimatum. Disregarding the court ruling will come with consequences for the individuals involved – in particular the Foreign Minister and the Commissioner of Police.

Kenyan Court Orders Bashir Arrest, Sudan Expels Kenyan Ambassador

UPDATE:

The BBC reports:

Sudan ordered the expulsion of the Kenyan ambassador after a Kenyan judge issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s foreign ministry has said.

Mr Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes in Darfur.

Sudan has ordered the Kenyan ambassador to leave the country within 72 hours.

It has also ordered the Sudanese ambassador in Kenya to return to Khartoum.

*************************************************************

A Kenyan court has issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir over alleged war crimes in Darfur.

The ruling came after Kenya allowed Mr Bashir to visit in August in defiance of an International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant for his arrest.

The judge said he should be arrested if he “ever set foot in Kenya” again, the AFP news agency reports.

Kenya is a signatory to the treaty which established the ICC in 2002.

The new Kenyan constitution requires that the government implements its international treaty obligations. The ruling, though without much bite – I doubt Bashir will need to be in Kenya any time soon, has immense symbolism in the region.

It also matters for Kenyan domestic politics. Presently, a few high ranking Kenyan politicians – including the Finance minister, two former ministers and former police boss – are on trial at the ICC for crimes against humanity. The accused await judgment on the admissibility of their cases later this year or early next. The Bashir ruling means that if the charges against the “Ocampo Six” are confirmed but the government drags its feet in implementing an arrest warrant then the courts will step in.

More on the Bashir case here and here.

In other news, Uganda and Tanzania have rejected Khartoum’s petition to join the East African Community, citing “several issues like their democracy, the way they treat women and their religious politics.” Yeah right.

Welcoming Southern Sudan to the EAC

UPDATE: A related article on Uganda’s influence in the soon to be independent South Sudan can be found in the New York Times.

In three days the East African Community will celebrate the independence of its next newest member. Because of SPLM connections in Kenya, among other East African nations, the Southern Sudanese economy will most likely orient itself southwards.

Kenya’s Vision 2030 development plan, for instance, will link Southern Sudan to the Indian Ocean coast via a pipeline and railway line. Oil from South Sudan is currently exported through Port Sudan, 3,000 kilometres away. The planned link to Lamu would reduce that distance to 1,700 kilometres.

For Southern Sudan, economic ties with its southern neighbors will not only grant it access to much needed capital and skilled labor but also implicitly guarantee it security against its menacing neighbor to the north.

I doubt that Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda will sit on their hands if the north decides to bomb local offices of Equity Bank, Ethiopian Airlines or Ugandan retail outlets in Juba (Remember the “Kenyan” tanks fiasco?). It also helps that IGAD has suddenly woken up to the security challenges posed by proxy wars among its member states. Kenya’s president, and current head of IGAD, recently chastised Eritrea for its ties with militant groups in the region.

IGAD will provide yet another forum for the region to put pressure on Khartoum to honor the CPA and not resort to war.

Several Kenyan companies have already set up shop in Juba. About 70,000 Kenyans live and work in Southern Sudan. According to the Business Daily:

Although several major Kenyan companies like Equity Bank, KCB, UAP Insurance and many small enterprises operate in South Sudan, the independence declaration on July 9 is expected to trigger another wave of corporate movement there.

Bidco Refineries that has a dealership in South Sudan, for example, is expected to consider having a physical presence there, said the company’s CEO Vimal Shah in an earlier interview. Kenyan manufacturers are, however, discouraged by low consumption levels and shortage of power, water and sewerage systems.

Co-operative Bank of Kenya is also expected to start setting up its banking infrastructure with a new venture that will be 30 per cent owned by the Government of South Sudan.

The new bank is expected to benefit from government business as it will process salaries of government employees and enjoy business arising from the government’s shareholding in the venture. The peaceful aftermath of the January 9 referendum that voted for secession from the North has helped to improve the country’s risk profile.

Who will stop khartoum?

It appears that the war between north and south Sudan is inevitable. The north overran the disputed town of Abyei last week and now is angling to take over two border states. The Times reports:

Now, according to a letter from the Sudanese military’s high command, the northern army, in the next few days, plans to take over Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states, two disputed areas with a long history of conflict that are still bristling with arms.

Analysts, local leaders and Western diplomats fear that if the northern army carries through on its threat to push out or forcibly disarm the thousands of fighters allied to the south in these two areas, it could set off a much bigger clash between the northern and southern armies, who have been building up their arsenals for years in anticipation of war.

Malik Agar, Blue Nile’s governor, said Sunday night that northern forces had recently moved “dangerously close” to the bases of southern-allied fighters and that he didn’t think the southern-allied forces would surrender.

A part of me still thinks that Bashir’s sabre-rattling is designed for the northern public. After all he will go down in history as the president who lost the south. In order to avoid immediate ouster he must, at least, pretend to put up a fight. My other side, however, thinks that Bashir (and his generals) might actually want war. Oil and water are on the line.

So how can a war be avoided?

Right now everyone appears to be looking in the direction of the UN for help. But the UN is busy putting out fires elsewhere, not least in Darfur where Khartoum’s forces keep firing at UN helicopters.

That Khartoum would let the south go peacefully was always a long shot. Many analysts had predicted that the north would either finance mini-rebellions in the south or go for a full blown war. It appears that Khartoum is going for both.

South Sudan does not need this war. The whole country has less than 200 Kilometres of paved road, among other mind-boggling underdevelopment records. Its human capital development is lagging behind the regional average by decades. A sustained war would take away vital resources from much needed development work.

Which brings me back to the title of this post. Many a time I have lamented at Africa’s lack of a regional hegemon. A hegemon that would take the mantle of regional conscience and policeman. A regional power that would put out fires even when the UN and the global powers that be were too busy (like they are now) or just plain indifferent (remember the mid-1990s?).

If it occurs the north-south war will be bloody and dirty (read land mines, more child soldiers, crimes-against-humanity tactics). As many as hundreds of thousands of people could die. Millions will be affected. It will also mean more light arms in an already volatile region, not to mention potential for spillovers into ongoing insurgencies in The DRC, Chad, Uganda and Ethiopia. Who will stop Omar al-Bashir and his generals?

 

talks between north and south sudan break down

The US Foreign Ministry (State Dept.) has announced on its blog that talks between the NCP and the SPLM have broken down. The blog post partly said:

In this sensitive period, it is critical that the NCP and SPLM maintain their dialogue and make further progress toward the creation of sustainable economic, political, and security arrangements between the two parties. To that end, we urge President Bashir and First Vice President Kiir to take steps against alleged actions that destabilize each other’s governments and territories, and to lay the ground for mutual cooperation with the goal of the creation of two viable states in July.

The communique also made note of the rapidly escalating war by proxies (Omar al-Bashir is the king of such tactics in the Great Lakes region):

We also condemn the violence in Malakal, Southern Sudan, on March 12. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) rules out the existence of armed groups outside the two established forces of the parties. Allegations of support to proxies are serious, and should be investigated through established CPA mechanisms and the good offices of UNMIS. The members of the Troika stand ready to assist.

The war between north and south Sudan is almost inevitable. Unresolved border issues in Abyei, Jonglei, Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, renegotiation of oil revenues and the south’s internal problems will most certainly result in war in the very near future.

North Sudan must be thinking that given how fast the south is arming (through Kenya) it might be prudent to strike while Juba is still weak (right after independence in July) than wait until the south is strong and has a pipeline through Kenya thus no longer needing the north’s pipelines and refineries. Plus having “lost the south” and facing continued pressure following events in the Middle East and North Africa, Omar al-Bashir could use a little of the tried and tested war of distraction tactic.

Afro-American relations and Justice

FP Magazine reports:

In short, all the carrots that U.S. diplomats are offering the Sudanese president seem to be working. Among the prizes for Khartoum are a U.S. promise to remove Sudan from its list of terrorism-supporting states and a possible visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according to the Sudan Tribune. Earlier this month, U.S. State Department officials also signaled that they would be ready to begin normalization following Sudan’s acceptance of the vote.

While the US approach has yielded good results in securing the secession referendum in the South, American policy in the wider region leaves a lot to be desired. Washington appears to be ready to cut a deal with any dictator, as long as they serve a short-term US need.

America needs to do more on Darfur. America needs to do more in Ethiopia, where Meles Zenawi continues to reign with an iron fist without any pretense of respecting human rights. America needs to do more in Uganda, where Museveni has emerged as an anti-terror crusader who does not care for any liberal (in the classical sense) ideals.

The choice between protecting American interests abroad and respecting the rights of other peoples of the world is a false choice. Liberty (the world over) is not incompatible with American security. The ideals embodied in the federalist papers, the American declaration of independence, and the first amendment of the US constitution should not be confined within the US borders as far as American policy goes.

sustaining african (imp)unity

There is something to be said about the fact that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has mostly concentrated on atrocities committed on the African continent. Charges of a regional bias emerging from African State Houses definitely have some truth to them. For the court to appear serious about ending offenses that shock the human conscience like genocide and ethnic cleansing it must have a balanced, global reach.

That said, the current anti-ICC mood widespread across Africa is unfortunate. The African Union (AU) defended Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir against the ICC. Now it emerges that Kenya is lobbying other African states to garner support for an anti-ICC resolution in the upcoming AU summit later this month. Four prominent Kenyan politicians, a former police commissioner and a media personality have been named by the ICC as key suspects in the violence that rocked the East African nation in 2007-08.

In retrospect, the ICC might have shot itself in the foot by aggressively pursuing the Kenyan case. Mr. Ocampo’s actions betrayed the ill-informed view that Africa’s many diverse countries are all the same. Kenya is not Sierra Leone. The country receives less than 5% of GDP in overseas development assistance and has considerable regional influence. Many have been shell-shocked by Kenyan politician’s resolve to pull out of the ICC, even in the face of international pressure. Their threats are credible because they know they can without too high a cost.

The biggest losers from this anti-ICC drive within the AU will be citizens of poorer, less able African states. It is places like Chad, (North) Sudan, Central African Republic, Niger, Guinea, Zimbabwe, among others, where the collective interests of targeted communities are more or less not represented in the capital that most need the ICC. If Kenya succeeds the Deby’s and Mugabe’s of this world will get even more emboldened.

Impunity on the African continent is on the rise, again.