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.

how hard can it be?

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) continues to run amok in the great lakes region, killing, maiming and abducting civilians at will. The governments of Uganda, The DRC, Central African Republic and Southern Sudan have proven unable to provide a solution to the LRA problem once and for all. A joint military operation by the governments of Uganda and the DRC early this year only served to fuel further attacks from the rebel movement – leading to 500 deaths, according to a UN report.

All this makes one wonder: How hard can it be to conclusively deal with the LRA? They need not be completely routed. The huge UN peacekeeping force in the DRC and the very active Ugandan military must be capable of reducing the human toll from the operations of LRA. And more importantly, isn’t it time that Uganda made up its mind on whether it wants to negotiate or pursue a military solution to the conflict with Kony and his murderous gang? Kampala’s indecision continues to cause hundreds of deaths in the wider great lakes region. Museveni should either agree to talk with Kony or take the fight to him (conclusively – and this can be done, with proper planning and commitment. The LRA is not al-Qaeda or al-Shabab). Fighting a war of attrition with a rebel movement whose MO is to maim and abduct young children is simply not an option.

the drc and its war of attrition

Last week the government of the Democratic Rep. of Congo (DRC) belatedly announced that it had captured Mushake, a rebel held town in the Eastern fringes of Africa’s second largest country. This was seen by many as a sign of government commitment to winning the war (now that the rebels seem not to care about negotiations) and finally restoring peace to the region. It therefore came as a surprise when it emerged that the government had lost the town again to the rebels.

The DRC is a country that has never known peace; going back to the days when it was personal property of King Leopold of Belgium. Even after independence, the secessionist attempts by Katanga (South Eastern region), the assassination of Lumumba and Mobutu’s kleptocratic and murderous rule did not make things better. When Mobutu died there was hope that the elder Kabila would bring peace and a sense of nationhood. But this was not to be; Kabila was assassinated by his own men and succeeded by his son. The younger Kabila has tried to make peace, first with the Bemba led opposition and then with the Eastern rebels, but without much success.

The recent loss of Mushake is a sign of government ineptitude in fighting this war. It is clear that the rebels and their sponsors in Rwanda and Uganda do not want peace and will do anything to keep the embers burning because this way they will have unregulated, tax free access to the minerals in the Eastern region. The Kinshasa government cannot afford a war of attrition with the rebels as this will distract it from its main objectives of providing public goods for all its citizens, not to mention the long term effects such a war will have. The sooner Kabila gets his act together and wins this war, the better it is going to be not only for the Congolese but also for the entire great lakes region.

The African Union and other regional bodies should support the government in making sure that the rebels are defeated and punished for their criminal adventures. Although the Kinshasa government is not the best government the DRC could ever have, secessionist wars are not the best way to deal with this problem. The rebels should know that in this day and age there are better ways of expressing one’s grievances; ways that do not contribute to unwarranted human suffering and wastage of scarce resources.